Willamette Week's 2011 Restaurant Guide

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3 Doors Down1429 SE 37th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97214-5103
[PASTA, OR ARDOR] This oddly angular Hawthorne bistro feels like an artifact of a different age in Portland eating, post-Zefiro but pre-Clarklewis, when ceilings were painted and waiters pretended to like you, and the guts stayed off the menu. 3 Doors Down has aged much more gracefully than the insipid Mississippi rock band of the same name: The menu is classic but not dated, and trendy ingredients (Padrón peppers, boquerones) appear alongside the chicken breast with creamed corn. Antipasti and appetizers are good—get the oreganoey pan-fried baby artichokes if they’re available—and you could make a fine meal out of the top half of the menu, but it would be a shame to leave without trying the pasta. 3 Doors Down has several, including a very nice linguine with clams and mussels, but I’m speaking in the singular: The penne with vodka sauce and housemade Italian sausage is the sort of perfect dish that can support a whole restaurant. It’s like Campbell’s cream of tomato soup or Chef Boyardee in the best possible way—something about the tomato and cream and spicy sausage grabs hold of the pleasure center and yanks. Eating the penne evokes nostalgia and libido in equal measure; follow it with the “bocca negra” chocolate torte and I guarantee your evening will have a pleasing finale. BEN WATERHOUSE.http://3doorsdowncafe.com
A Cena7742 SE 13th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97202-6348
[MAMBO ITALIANO] This Sellwood neighborhood joint may have to tell diners both how to pronounce its name (ah-CHAY-nah) and what it means (“come to supper”), but A Cena surely lives up to the title, as an invitation and a celebration. Chef Gabriel Gabreski has created a menu that celebrates his Italian roots in a way that may seem rather homey at first, yet constantly surprises the palate with unexpected color. Many dishes here, from the fried artichokes to the grilled lamb chops scottadito (rough translation: “burn your fingers”), feature just the right touch of lemon and other colorful inclusions to remind diners why traditional country-style Italian food can and should be dynamic, with free-flowing wine to carry diners through the courses. The agnolotti on a recent visit were like little packets of summer shipped from Piedmont on a Maine lobster trawler: sweet mascarpone and ethereal corn that seemed to pop, in a bright sauce of cream and butter, brimming with fresh lobster. Amid an intimate yet casual setting perfect for a romantic date or a celebration with friends, A Cena sets itself apart not only as a solid neighborhood institution for Sellwood, but as one of the city’s finest places to spend an evening. CRAIG BEEBE.http://acenapdx.com
Accanto2838 SE Belmont St.
Portland, Ore. 97214-4024
[BELLA BELMONT] Like so many Italian words, “accanto” sounds enchanting, but it simply means “next door”—as in, next door to Genoa. Easier on the wallet than Genoa while benefiting from some shared kitchen staff, Accanto does many things extremely well. The chicken liver pâté, for instance, is supremely rich and silky, and a server will gladly bring more bread to supplement the crostini that comes with the pâté. The burrata (fresh cheese made of mozzarella and cream) is almost as wonderful, although the kitchen can be stingy with the promised anchovies. Vegetarian options aren’t plentiful; one of them, artichoke and mascarpone ravioli with hazelnuts, baby artichokes and mint, adds up to too many ingredients that just don’t click as a group. Also beware of cocktails served “over ice”; as with so many recession-pressed Portland restaurants, these tend to be heavy on the ice. For an alluring alternative, try an after-dinner dessert wine or digestif, and “exotica” such as Clear Creek muscat grappa (fiery yet flowery), Trillium absinthe or some nice old port. This will set you up nicely for the budino, a warm chocolate pudding that harmonizes sublimely with burnt-sugar almond gelato. ANGIE JABINE.http://accantopdx.com
Andina1314 NW Glisan St.
Portland, Ore. 97209-2783
[¡HOLA! PERU] Andina can be outright deafening when the place is packed, but it’s packed for a reason—this sprawling Peruvian palace has one of the most interesting menus in town, and really top-notch waiters. Likewise, the kitchen crew’s swiftness and consistency in cooking for crowds (Andina has multiple private dining rooms) from a big, complex menu verges on miraculous. While waiting for appetizers, my dining companion tried a Cristal, a Peruvian lager, while I sipped a potently refreshing Açaipirinha (a traditional caipirinha with puree of açai berries). It’s not unusual to make a meal of appetizers at Andina; the three we ordered were ample for sharing. Conchas a la parilla, grilled diver scallops with garlic lime butter sauce and crispy onions, and causa/mixta nikkei, lime-infused mashed potato cake with spicy tuna, crab salad and crispy shrimp, definitely rang our chimes; the yuca filled with Velveeta-esque cheese, not so much. But I was very happy with my “Novo-Andean” entree, atun con tacu-tacu y aguaymanto: seared yellowfin tuna with orange-endive salsa criolla and gooseberries (yep, gooseberries do grow in the Andes), laid over a lentil-rice patty. As for dessert, it was no afterthought—the mousse de valle y selva, a delectable semifreddo layered with chocolate ganache, lucuma-fruit-and-espresso mousse and cacao nib meringue, still haunts my waistline. ANGIE JABINE.http://andinarestaurant.com
Apizza Scholls4741 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Ore. 97215-3249
[PERFECT PIZZA] Apizza Scholls breaks my heart. It is the perfect neighborhood pizzeria: cozy and unfussy, with simple, quality toppings, a great beer list, nice staff, arcade games and a comforting aroma that reminds me of the pizza of my youth. It is exactly the pizza I want when my stomach starts rumbling for a floppy, chewy, cheesy, salty slice. Sadly, about 400,000 other Portlanders feel the same way, and every night they line up—for hours—for a coveted seat in the Hawthorne Boulevard restaurant. But that’s just not how pizza cravings work. Pizza—that kind of pizza—is about lust and gluttony and instant gratification. Nevertheless, for those with more self-control and patience than I, the payoff is worth it. Pedantic pizzaiolo Brian Spangler blasts his 18-inch pies with serious BTUs until they’re gnarled and bubbly and oozy in the best kind of way. You can build your own pie from a small menu of toppings (truffle oil and pineapple are about as extreme as it gets; this isn’t California Pizza Kitchen), but really, there’s no need, as the Margherita has already achieved pizza perfection and cannot be improved upon. RUTH BROWN.http://apizzascholls.com
Autentica5507 NE 30th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97211-6805
[REAL MEXICAN] Oswaldo Bibiano, chef-owner of Autentica, is a culinary old soul, preparing dishes from his native Mexico with such care and deference to tradition he might as well be someone’s abuela. It’s a custom in some parts of Mexico for restaurants to serve up a pozole every Thursday, and Bibiano’s version hits every part of the palate. Garlic and chili blossom around tender chunks of pork and hominy; it tastes as if the flavors have been bubbling in Bibiano’s cauldron for centuries. As amazing as the pozole is, Bibiano’s true powers are apparent in his magical mole chicken. It’s one thing to successfully engineer the 30-odd ingredients that go into the concoction; it’s quite another to work the crazy alchemy it takes to transform the disparate chilies, chocolate, spices and secret flavors into myriad layers of flavor. The stuff has more surprising strata than Inception. Don’t try to pick out each and every ingredient—better to grab a two-top with a friend, sip a chili-infused margarita, dish over old boyfriends and let the flavors slowly take over. JONANNA WIDNER.http://autenticaportland.com
Bamboo Sushi310 SE 28th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97214-1808
[ECO-SUSHI] After years of one-night stands with lesser suitors, Bamboo Sushi has ruined all other sushi for me. What more is there to ask for in a lifetime commitment? Bamboo has it all: an eco-minded attitude with a hip edge, a creative side that takes risks and almost always comes out strong, and the ability to make decisions about dinner seem as important as they really are. The wait can be interminably long, and the menu is occasionally preachy (this is, after all, the nation’s self-proclaimed most sustainable seafood restaurant), but Bamboo Sushi offers so much, it’s easy to forgive. Be adventurous. Skip the seaweed salad and go for the tsukemono, an artful sampling of seasonal pickled vegetables and fruits. Forget your California roll and try the Highway 35, named for the inland highway traversing the orchards of Hood River, that features an unlikely combination of Dungeness crab, tobiko, asparagus and pear. Order the chirashi, an ever-changing variety of sashimi and rice that’s almost too beautifully arranged to eat. Finished off with a couple of fine cocktails or a glass of shochu, every evening at Bamboo Sushi calls for another. This is a relationship built to last. CRAIG BEEBE.http://bamboosushipdx.com
Bar Avignon2138 SE Division St.
Portland, Ore. 97202-1243
[BOOZY BISTRO] Bar Avignon is not an expensive restaurant. Only one entree, the New York steak with seasonal sides (mine had corona beans and cacao nibs) cracks $20, and most dishes run $6 to $18. So how did I wind up dropping $120 on dinner? For the answer, you need look no farther than the back of the kitchen, where someone has scrawled the phrase “I will not drink bad wine” over an entire wall. Is it possible to drink a bad glass of wine at Bar Avignon? Perhaps; we lacked the stamina to make it through all 22 glass pours, but the five we tried were anything but. Drinking bad cocktails seems equally unlikely—the Vieux Carré (rye, vermouth, Benedictine, bitters) is especially good. You certainly will not eat bad food. The menu favors simple preparations of very fresh vegetables and larger cuts of meat than price would imply. The small-plates lineup changes too frequently for my recommendations to be of much use, but there are a few constants: The crostini with smoked salmon and olive spread are delicious enough to make you order a second round; anything with pickles is worth a try; and the chicken always has crisp skin, moist flesh and pleasing sides. If you can still stand, there’s a port with your name on it for dessert. BEN WATERHOUSE.http://baravignon.com
Bastas Trattoria410 NW 21st Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97209-1104
[HAPPY HOURS] There are a lot of Italian food options in Northwest, so any red-sauce restaurant there hoping to survive needs a solid claim to fame. Bastas’ is its all-night, every-night happy hour. Yes, the small dining room feels like a cross between a waiting room and a greenhouse off to the side, and no, you do not want to eat there. Go to the sprawling high-ceilinged lounge up front, where people are actually enjoying themselves, and order from both menus. The pasta and pizza at Bastas is fine but not too memorable, barring the pillowy gnocchi with wild mushroom marsala sauce and spicy grilled pork tenderloin. Get a nice glass of wine (a lot of good choices) or a cocktail (food is discounted for happy hour, drinks are not) and mix and match things like the seafood risotto with shrimp, calamari and scallops, the top sirloin carpaccio, pancetta-wrapped grilled quail, or the tomato-braised octopus, all for $6 to $10. LIZ CRAIN.http://bastastrattoria.com
Beaker & Flask727 SE Washington St.
Portland, Ore. 97214-2219
[DINNER & DRINKS] Lacking signage and located on a grayish industrial corner just off Southeast Sandy Boulevard, Beaker & Flask does not readily lend itself to a cohesive first impression. Is it a warehouse? A design studio? A car-dealership showroom? A peek inside does nothing to mitigate the confusion, revealing extensive use of concrete and chalkboard paint, chromed diner-style tables and chairs, and an enormous curved bar populated by a handful of middle-aged men in Tommy Bahama shirts who may or may not want to sell you a Honda. In any case, it was from this very bar, topped somewhat incongruously with homey-looking canned preserves, that we received some of the best cocktails we’d ever tasted. Keep in mind, though, these cocktails are strictly for grown-ups—nothing is blended with ice, or contains schnapps, or is even particularly sweet. (Highly recommended is the Devil in a Boot—a warming mix of smoky blended and single-malt scotch, Cynar and orange liqueur with a strip of orange peel.) The food menu is equally spectacular, offering a mix of deftly executed small and large plates such as a medium-rare grilled beef shoulder with spinach and roasted fingerling potatoes, an already addictive combination topped with a festive tuft of fried leeks. I’m still not sure what Beaker & Flask is selling, but whatever it is, I’m buying. KAT MERCK.http://beakerandflask.com
Beast5425 NE 30th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97211-6803
[WORTH IT] Not so long ago, when Michael and Naomi Hebberoy still shared a blended surname, a local food maven murmured to me, “Oh, Michael’s the creative talent—Naomi just runs things and helps out in the kitchen.” Hah! With Michael Hebb out of the picture, Naomi Pomeroy and sous chef Mika Paredes are crafting dining experiences worth getting on a plane for, so sit back and prepare to be wowed. Yes, this kitchen loves flesh, be it raw, cooked or cured, but it also dotes on fruits and vegetables, presented in unexpectedly delectable ways. Ever tried a pickled green strawberry? Or a confiture of wild sour plum with fried squash blossoms, baby zucchini and caramelized French lentils? I normally shun foie gras, but I fell hard for a foie gras bon-bon topped with an icy marble of Sauternes gelée. And may I never forget the pleasant shock of Beast’s smoked peach ice cream, served with pecan caramel cakes. Caveats: I liked the Laguiole cutlery but not the punishing bentwood ice-cream parlor chairs or the loud ’80s pop that seriously hindered a fascinating conversation with a couple from Toronto. That is the point of the communal tables, right? ANGIE JABINE.http://beastpdx.com
The Bent Brick1639 NW Marshall st.
Portland, Ore. 97209-2406
[DRINKS & DINNER] Park Kitchen chef Scott Dolich’s new food-obsessed tavern doesn’t mince words. You might be given the phrase “shrimp, corn, cherry tomatoes, young coriander” and end up with a tongue-in-cheek riff on suburban bar menu popcorn shrimp that includes everything from a Johnny cake and fresh corn to actual popcorn, prawn butter and cilantro buds. In other words, your meal will be somewhat confusing, artfully composed and more often than not very tasty. Ordering blindly becomes less irritating after downing a few of Bent Brick’s exceedingly strong cocktails (“that’s just a big ol’ glass of booze,” drawled the server as he handed me my Path To Victory, a viscous slick of bourbon and bitter, herby Chinato cut with vinegar and gingersnap). Properly lubricated you can appreciate the lovely spot’s oddball mix of English ivy-bedecked brick windows, concrete floors and that oversized Jenga sculpture in the waiting area. Executive chef Will Preisch does wonderful things with mussels, served on the half shell nestled in a slick of smoky aioli, and pickle plates that encompass both sea beans and Seussical pink eggs. You may not know what you’re gonna get, but that doesn’t mean you won’t like it. KELLY CLARKE.http://thebentbrick.com
Bete-Lukas2504 SE 50th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97206-1562
[FINGER FOOD] Even newbs with no experience in Ethiopian cuisine will immediately feel at home in this cool, calming space. (It’s much more pleasant than you might guess from outside the charmless building.) The owners are engaging and chatty but not overbearing, and will keep you entertained if you show up alone to sit at the bar. Whatever you order, start with a sambusa appetizer: perfectly light, crispy, warm pockets of either spiced lentils or potatoes and carrots. The house salad is simple but makes a nice buffer around the complex flavors of everything else. If you’re not sure what to try, a combination platter—either vegetarian or meat—lets you sample a range. But you’d be foolish not to dive into the fish dish, asa goulash, or the classic doro key wot, a chicken thigh sautéed in berbere sauce with a hard-boiled egg. In fact, anything in Bete-Lukas’s rich, smoky berbere sauce, from lentils to beef cubes, is fantastic. Other menu highlights include kik alicha wot, a yellow split-pea mash with ginger and garlic; the sweet tikel gomen, curried potatoes and carrots with cabbage; and the deceptively simple-sounding kitfo, a spicy mound of sautéed ground beef served with fresh housemade ayib, which is similar to cottage cheese. Each dish comes piled atop tangy, spongy injera bread, which serves double-duty as plate and utensils. BECKY OHLSEN.http://bete-lukas.com
Bethany's Table15325 NW Central Drive No. J1
Ore. 97229-0986
[GO WEST] Janet O’Connor and David Bowles jokingly refer to their Northwest bistro and wine bar as a “gem in the culinary desert of Washington County.” They’re right. If Bethany’s Table were jammed in along one of the eastside’s restaurant rows, its simple, tasty cuisine would get lost in the shuffle. But since it’s hidden in a upscale strip mall in the land of Walgreens and Subway in Bethany, it’s an absolute oasis of fresh ingredients and deft cooking for westsiders who don’t want to motor across town for a crisp-skinned roast chicken (recently served with a sticky molasses bourbon sauce and peaches) or a juicy no-fuss burger with tasty potato wedges. Most everything here is better than you expect it to be, from the mess of creamy beans and tomato jam under the tender pork shoulder to a rustic, slurp-worthy tomato soup. Pastry chef Amelia Lane makes the best flourless chocolate cake in Portland, its suburbs and maybe the world. KELLY CLARKE.http://bethanystable.com
Biwa215 SE 9th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97214-1358
[JAPANESE SNACKING] Gabe Rosen’s Biwa has settled in nicely as a go-to joint for those who want some exotic noshing with their drinks, featuring plenty of izakaya classics like yakimono (grilled, skewered tasty bits) to pair with a selection from the restaurant’s extensive sake and cocktail menus. While it may be tempting to ensconce yourself in the more intimate depths of this dark wood-paneled church basement, try to get a seat at the bar and watch your food coalesce. Biwa has always excelled at giving diners control over the level of challenge in their food, and adventurous types will be just as well served trying the tangy, salty-sweet saba nanbanzuke or pickled mackerel as their more conservative companions partaking of the crisp-crusted agedashi tofu. As tempting as it may be to go crazy with the add-ons for Biwa’s pork-rich ramen, try exercising some restraint, as the layers of flavor are there even before the first slice of tender chasyu pork hits the broth. If you must embellish, smoked pork shoulder is a universal condiment. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.http://biwarestaurant.com
Bluehour250 NW 13th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97209-2953
[CLASSIC REVIVAL] Having established itself as one of Portland’s most luxurious and expensive restaurants, Bluehour was in an awkward position when the recession struck and Portlanders began paring back their dining budgets. To its credit, Bluehour quickly reconciled itself to the New Economy and set about adapting its menu and image accordingly. In the elegant dining room, one can still order a $42 ribeye, and the lavish slab, iced with rosy bordelaise, does not disappoint. But it’s the happy-hour and bar menus where Bluehour’s real allure for un-moneyed Portlanders now lies. The cuisine is simplified but still superb, and the prices won’t exhaust your unemployment check. Fried picholine olives are the perfect elevated finger food to accompany a $20 bottle of happy-hour white. Italian white bean purée is the hummus of the gods, notes of rosemary wafting up as you spread it on grilled bread. A four-bite pork belly slider is smoky and savory, well worth its $4 price. The bar menu often features a rotating gnocchi, like a recent ricotta incarnation with tender, redolent lamb cheek ragu. At $12 on the bar menu, the Bluehour burger is a great value, stacking juicy beef with aged cheddar, pickles, bacon and mustard aioli. At $8 during happy hour, it’s practically stealing. ETHAN SMITH. Editor’s note: Bluehour hired a new chef, Thomas Boyce, at the beginning of August. Boyce, a nine-year veteran of Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, is the first cook to helm the kitchen after the departure of founding chef Kenny Giambalvo. It’s too soon to pass firm judgement on Boyce’s Bluehour, but his first month on the job promised a much-needed reinvigoration of the dinner menu, with a focus on excellent fresh pastas (the sweet corn tortellini is an instant hit) and interesting seafood preparations like albacore sashimi with wasabi, ponzu sauce and endive-cucumber salad; and tender octopus pressed into a terrine with spicy marinated cucumber and daikon radish. The white bean purée and burger remain unchanged.http://bluehouronline.com
Broder2508 SE Clinton St.
Portland, Ore. 97202-1239
[NORDIC NOSH] Most Americans’ exposure to Sweden begins with Muppet chefs and ends at IKEA side tables. But Portlanders get a far better cultural exchange rate at Clinton Street brunch haven Broder, which wraps homespun Swedish eats in a stylish, indie-Portland package. It’s the details that make Peter Bro’s cafe such a delight: tiny glass vessels of steamed milk for your coffee, creamy eggs baked in little square pans, Magnetic Fields on the stereo. The airy Aebleskiver pancakes are rightfully lauded, but make room for the little apple fritters, which are grilled just enough to toast the edges but still keep the fruit crisp, and served with both maple syrup and sour cream. There’s light yet savory trout hash topped with eggs and pickled beets, crunchy walnut toast and a Breakfast Bord groaning with Nordic treats. And we haven’t even gotten to the worthy lunch (hot dogs with potato pancakes!) or dinner. KELLY CLARKE.http://broderpdx.com
Cafe Castagna1758 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Ore. 97214-3723
[EASY ELEGANCE] Modern and spare but hardly Spartan, Cafe Castagna’s dining room is as elegantly straightforward as its food. Dark wood, concrete floors, an open kitchen and warm lighting create a pleasing backdrop for dishes like a crisp-skinned and succulent roast chicken, infused with oregano, reclining atop a pile of tender, lemony couscous. A salad of local frisee, a Sauvie Island egg rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried, and a huge square of pork belly turn innocent greens into a deliciously wicked indulgence. In the mood for more casual fare? Cafe Castagna’s burger has deservedly landed on more than one “best of Portland” list, and its micro-thin-crust pizzas can be either simple (mozzarella, tomato and basil) or baroque (finely chopped kale and chewy, salty lumps of sausage). Convivial service adds even more warmth to the experience. JONANNA WIDNER.http://castagnarestaurant.com
Castagna1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Ore. 97214-3723
[FOREST FEAST] Castagna is changing again. Matthew Lightner, who transformed the then-decade-old Hawthorne Boulevard bistro into a renowned destination of culinary artistry, has left for New York. Stepping in is Justin Woodward, long Lightner’s number two here and elsewhere. Woodward has already demystified the menu somewhat, but many elements remain comfortably the same: the elegant dining room, impeccable service and stunning plating ensure that Castagna remains an incomparably memorable evening. Every “snack” and course on the ever-changing $65 prix fixe menu is delicate yet terrestrial, with forays into an astonishing range of textures, flavors and colors. On a recent visit, the menu featured a strong Pacific Northwest rainforest vibe, with young fir, oxalis, and even yarrow making subtle appearances throughout the courses alongside foci like chanterelles, lamb collar, salmon sous vide and chamomile custard, all plated like works of art or miniature landscapes. The imagination runs wild: Is there a verdant forest somewhere behind the restaurant in Ladd’s Addition, into which staff venture throughout the evening to forage for ingredients and accompaniments? Maybe this primordial essence is why dinner at Castagna simultaneously pushes boundaries and induces nostalgia. When the bill comes, it’s not the total that’s regrettable, but that the meal has to end at all. CRAIG BEEBE.http://castagnarestaurant.com
Chennai Masala2088 NW Stucki Ave.
Hillsboro, Ore. 97124-7716
[PANCAKE HOUSE] You don’t go to Chennai Masala for the décor, that’s for sure. Hidden away in a dreary Tanasbourne strip mall, alongside pro-forma junk food outlets and parking lots full of Honda Odysseys, the cold, cafeteria-like eatery actually looks less inviting than the Chipotle a few doors down. But inside, a full house of sub-continent expats and smug westerners are dining on some of the best Indian food in the Portland metropolitan region. Although the restaurant is famed for its south Indian fare, the menu contains plenty of northern dishes more familiar to the average American. So study up beforehand or grill your waiter: You didn’t schlep it out to Hillsboro to eat freaking chicken tikka. Instead, try the vada, soft, savory doughnuts studded with cardamom seeds that taste amazing dipped in coconut chutney, or idly, steamed rice cakes served in a sambar soup. The dosa is a staple of southern Indian cuisine, and though these giant, crispy pancakes look indomitable, they’re actually paper-thin and fillings are modest. For more of a challenge, tackle the lesser-known, denser Tamil variant, uttapam. If you still have any room left, the Chettinad chicken cooked in a spicy, creamy coconut sauce will blow your little butter-chicken-eating brain. RUTH BROWN.http://chennaimasala.net
Chiang Mai3145 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Ore. 97214-4122
[FLY THAI] The Italian Joint, Hawthorne Boulevard’s purveyor of pallid pasta, is gone, to no one’s great regret, and its void of nostalgic vagueness has been filled by a welcome specificity. Chiang Mai, the pleasant restaurant that took over the tiny corner space a year ago, pointedly could not be called “The Thai Joint”: It is named for the largest city in northern Thailand, and its menu avoids the generic in favor of regional dishes and contemporary favorites. While you can order pad see-ew at Chiang Mai, the owners have much more interesting things in mind: Try miang kam, the Thai equivalent of the toppings bar at Cold Stone Creamery, with little piles of ginger, coconut, dried shrimp and minced chilies, shallots and limes to wrap up with betel leaves into bright little spliffs of spice. Sai oua, a northern Thai sausage made with lemongrass, galangal root, kaffir leaf and really hot chilies comes sliced with an order of sticky rice to soothe the burn. (You’ll still need a beer with it, and Chiang Mai, bless them, have Ninkasi on tap.) Best of all is the yum pla tod, a whole fired trout served with savory garnishes and a thick sweet-and-sour sauce, a wonderfully light alternative to the greasy fried fish of the West. BEN WATERHOUSE.http://chiangmaipdx.com
Ciao Vito2203 NE Alberta St.
Portland, Ore. 97211-5851
[ITALIAN DECADENCE] This would, in theory, be an excellent place to bring a date, except that the food is likely to overshadow the average dining companion. “Uh-huh,” you’ll murmur, nodding distractedly as he or she speaks, unable to wrest your concentration from the gorgeous beet salad in front of you. (The beets are perfect, with goat cheese and a little nest of rosemary all glazed in honey.) Don’t worry—with any luck, your date will be elbows-deep in a plate of calamari anyway. It comes with capers and a lemon aioli only the most battle-scarred match.com veteran could possibly resist. Cooperation is key: Try sharing the kitchen’s pride and joy, a dense pair of polenta wedges with pork shoulder, mushrooms, tomato sauce and crispy bread crumbs. Or assemble a strategy from the generous happy-hour menu; on a recent visit, only the skirt steak failed to impress. (It was fine, whereas everything else we tried was spectacular.) And speaking of happy hour, Ciao Vito’s bar makes fabulous cocktails, including the best limoncello martini in town. BECKY OHLSEN.http://ciaovito.net
Clarklewis1001 SE Water Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97214-2147
[BACK-ALLEY BLISS] Unless you’re homeless or unloading a delivery truck full of industrial plumbing parts, there isn’t much reason to visit the extreme inner-eastside block of Water Avenue adjacent to the railroad tracks. Yet Clarklewis—practically an elder statesman of the restaurant scene in its eighth year—continues to persuade white people from the suburbs to park their BMWs in dimly lit alleys and convince guys with shaved heads and neck tats that it’s OK to enjoy an unironic glass of riesling. Progress be damned, Clarklewis appears to be soldiering on as many people’s high-water mark for fine dining in Portland. And why shouldn’t it? A late July menu featured everything from fried Viridian squash blossoms with basil-lime aioli to an arugula salad with burrata and marionberries and grilled lamb with farro and cherry sauce—nothing stodgy or gimmicky or precious or preachy. Just good food with impeccable service in a sleekly converted warehouse. (Keep an eye out for clever honoring-the-neighborhood touches, like the railroad-tie coat racks.) Can’t decide between cavatelli or calamari? Try the four-course family-style tasting menu ($55 per person) to experience the full range of what chef Dolan Lane has to offer. KAT MERCK.http://clarklewispdx.com
Clyde Common1014 SW Stark St.
Portland, Ore. 97205-2610
[COCKTAILIAN CHIC] A local favorite with a national rep, now four years old, Clyde Common remains a destination restaurant. At dinnertime, it is a place where people dress like what people in Los Angeles think people in Portland must dress like. That is to say, it’s a place to be seen, with a crowd that’s slightly more dapper, ambitious and monied than you’ll find at most neighborhood hangouts. Around lunchtime and happy hour, it’s a calmer, more chilled-out place to people-watch out the great big windows and throw back a couple of cocktails without having to worry if your pocket square is too last year. Bring your out-of-town friends, who may vaguely remember hearing something positive about this place in Esquire, Playboy, or The New York Times (or WW), and who will probably want to visit the conveniently close Powell’s City of Books. (Be careful not to hit the bourbon too hard or you could easily blow your entire paycheck within these two city blocks.) Clyde’s pan-European menu changes often and yet maintains its inoffensive reliability: Pasta, pork, chicken, fish—you’ll find few surprises, but probably something to your taste. It’s a fashionable and fairly high-quality hotel restaurant, but a hotel restaurant nevertheless. The bar is the real draw. Host, table and bar service is gracious and professional, but wait times can grow long when the place gets busy. On a recent visit, the lamb with orzo pasta was a standout. COREY PEIN.http://clydecommon.com
Cocotte2930 NE Killingsworth St.
Portland, Ore. 97211-6812
[PARISIAN PORTLAND] It takes guts—the kind you can’t find in pâté—to open an untested establishment in the restaurant bubble Micah Camden blew, but Cocotte, even in its infancy, breezily meets Northeast 30th Avenue’s high standards. The space is remarkably versatile, with a cozy dining room cloister that transforms into a temperate patio when the French doors are thrown open to let a warm evening in. (The modest garden that hangs on the wall can probably use the light, too.) And one or two minor hiccups in service aside—empty plates overstayed their welcome on a recent visit—everything making the trip from kitchen to table is stellar. The menu changes often to take advantage of seasonal shifts; late July found chefs Kat Liebman and Zoe Hackett performing a minor miracle with a summer corn soup, which could only have tasted fresher had it been somehow shaved directly from the cob into the bowl. The paquet dû chard makes for a worthy and texturally thrilling complement, with juicy pork sausage wrapped in brittle, charred summer rainbow chard. Cross your fingers and hope Cocotte keeps its Berkshire pork chop around. Whiskey-brined and tender enough to cut with a plastic spoon, paired with creamy corn grits, wax beans and peach chutney, this merger of salty meat and harvested sweetness does the neighborhood proud. CHRIS STAMM.http://cocottepdx.com
Davis St. Tavern500 NW Davis St
Portland, Ore. 97209-3622
[POUR HOMME] With its brick walls, great slabs of exposed beam and display-case wine cellar, Davis St. Tavern evokes a New York stockbroker’s lunch spot more than your usual Stumptown eatery. This is one of those rare places in Portland where people might use words like “clients,” “profit margin” and “expense account,” a place so clubby and masculine it can casually use the word “tavern” in lieu of “fine dining.” Most local taverns couldn’t pull off an entree of plump, seared sea scallops, accented with a Vadouvan (a French take on Indian curry) vinaigrette, served atop mounds of multicolored carrot purée and florets of roasted cauliflower. Even the lighter fare is elevated: A decadent salad has duck confit and pistachios playing hide-and-seek in a tangle of baby greens. But while the food is really quite good, it’s the warm service, the guitar soloist covering “Dust in the Wind” and the burnished, historic interior that will bring you back. JONANNA WIDNER.http://davisstreettavern.com
Del Inti2315 NE Alberta St.
Portland, Ore. 97211-5871
[PERUVIAN PARTY] Banish any thoughts of “Peruvian” as code for lazy Latin fusion at this Alberta Street restaurant. The sunny, brightly colored patio with its fire pit looks like a place to roast marshmallows or do interpretive dance. But really, it’s a prime spot for sipping frothy, puckery pisco sours spiked with the traditional grape brandy. The menu, a collection of small plates boosted by a handful of entrees, reveals a real knowledge of traditional Peruvian food boosted by familiar Northwest ingredients. No, you won’t find any goat cheese tostadas here, but instead, a serious ceviche of shrimp, octopus and yam cubes swimming in a fiery lime sauce, as well as mashes, stews and salads incorporating potatoes and corn, the classic Peruvian staples. The authenticity is top down; both chef Jose Luis de Cossio and owner Ignacio del Solar grew up in Lima, Peru, and cooked at Del Inti’s well-coiffed westside cousin, Andina. While the Incas wouldn’t have recognized the pan-fried razor clam perched atop a fat slice of heirloom tomato, or crispy veal sweetbreads served with lentils and tiny pieces of apricot, they would’ve appreciated the textures and nuanced flavors. They would have easily ID’d the quinoa, which is served as a salad flecked with seasonal vegetables, an artful elevation of a common Portland potluck find. LUCY BURNINGHAM.http://delinti.com
DOC5519 NE 30th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97211-6805
[DATE NIGHT] First, a word of warning: Despite appearances to the contrary, DOC is not the sort of place you go for a casual dinner. If you’re in the mood for a big bowl of pasta and maybe a glass of viognier, you will likely find it expensive and standoffish. You’d be better off going to Serratto or Ciao Vito. DOC is, like its neighbor, Beast, a restaurant dedicated to the kind of dinners you might plan your month around: evening-long, six-course celebrations that merit dropping $100 per diner. Unlike Beast, however, DOC is happy to accommodate vegetarians and, on those rare nights a table is available, walk-ins. It is, at its heart, a fairly practical establishment: You walk in through the kitchen because it fits better at the front than the back of the restaurant’s tiny storefront; there are no glass prices on the wine list because sommelier Austin Morris Bridges opens different bottles every night to suit the day’s menu—just ask. Since DOC’s opening in 2008, its menu has evolved away from original chef Greg Perrault’s fishy experimentation and toward a sort of fresh traditionalism under co-chefs Paul Losch and Jobie Bailey. The best way to experience the menu is to order all of it: DOC offers a six-course “tasting menu” of quite large plates for $55. Here’s what we got with two orders: Tillamook Sweets oysters; a salad of beets, lettuce and goat cheese; a salad of warm braised rabbit over frisée and tomato with almonds and raisins; lobster-mushroom risotto; pappardelle in kale pesto with chanterelles and pancetta; crisp-skinned salmon with green beans, corn and sweet peppers; an unbelievably tender flatiron steak over white beans and cauliflower; two sizable wedges of cheese; steamed flourless chocolate cake; and lavender panna cotta with peaches and streusel. BEN WATERHOUSE.http://docpdx.com
Dorio1037 NW 23rd Ave., No. 200
Portland, Ore. 97210-3175
[GRANDMA’S GREEK] The moment you walk through the door of this newish Northwest 23rd Avenue lunch and dinner spot, Dorio waves a bunch of red flags in your face. A large TV dominates the bar. The music manages to be simultaneously dull and obnoxious. The menu features triple exclamation points and looks as if it were designed by a self-conscious typist using an obsolete version of Microsoft Word. But once you start talking to the staff, which is friendly, and order some food, which is tasty, you start to realize that Dorio’s outward tackiness is merely part of what makes it an authentic Greek family restaurant. There is no nü-Portland pretense, just a well-prepared selection of traditional (and obligatory) Greek dishes made with fresh local and high-quality imported ingredients. Dorio is less than 2 years old, but it feels like one of those longtime neighborhood favorites in New York City—the kind of solid, unhip, no-concept establishments that are increasingly hard to find in Portland’s hypercompetitive and finicky food scene. Plates are small, so order at least two for yourself, if you’re hungry, and several if you’re with company. Don’t miss the spiced meatballs (keftéthes) and the lamb souvlaki ($11 for a platter with two skewers, olives, feta and all the usual suspects). The small menu leaves some options for vegetarians, but it’s really about the meat here. And the ouzo. Do not leave without drinking some ouzo. It’s not the best Greek label, but it’s better than the versions of the drink that local distillers have come up with. Have them serve it properly, with one part water over ice, and enjoy the cloudy white anise buzz. COREY PEIN.http://dorionw.com
East India Co.821 SW 11th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97205-2114
[ELEGANT INDIAN] Romancing couples, Indian families and people who like being able to hear themselves think all appreciate this serene and lovely spot behind downtown’s Central Library. The long bar opens into an elegant dining room with a faceted red skylight, cushioned and curtained banquettes and tables with blessedly comfortable chairs. And East India is not just about looks; its kitchen expertly samples the many cuisines of the vast Indian subcontinent, while the bar caters to Portland’s cocktail mania. The Sharaabi Lassi, made with mango lassi (a fruity yogurt drink) and Sub Rosa saffron vodka, makes a soothing counterpoint to the many spicy entrees. So does the samosa chaat: spiced potatoes in a pastry shell, with “Bhel” seasoned garbanzo beans. I was prepared for my lamb vindaloo to be fiery hot; I was less prepared for it to have the bitter notes of a Mexican mole. My dining pal, a longtime resident of South India, opted for the special $25 Swatantra (Independence Day) menu, which featured a salad of orange and red onion slices with greens; meaty grilled mushrooms with a savory green paste; and maacher johl, poached halibut in a mild tomato rasan (broth) that she was shocked to see did not come with rice. Fortunately, there was plenty of warm naan from East India’s tandoor oven to absorb the broth. Meat-avoiders should try East India; just about everything can be made vegetarian, and there is a full vegan menu as well. ANGIE JABINE.http://eastindiacopdx.com
Eat: An Oyster Bar3808 N Williams Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97227-1467
[NEW ORLEANS CLASSIC] Planted in a very Portland enclave on North Williams, between microroaster Ristretto and microbrewer New Old Lompoc, EaT is a pleasantly haphazard slice of New Orleans. It’s also the perfect place to drown last night’s dull throb in hair-of-the-dog and hollandaise. Taxidermied gator heads peer from between jars of EaT’s housemade pickled asparagus (which makes an able cameo in the house bloody mary). On Sundays, New Orleans jazz combos set up by the front windows, laying down the soundtrack for your own episode of Treme. From a perch at the bar, watch chefs retrieve golden beignets from bubbling oil. These airy Cajun doughnuts are doused in powdered sugar and served with a butter-bourbon sauce that retains a pleasant boozy kick. Sip a Sazerac or a beer from one of the lovely vintage kegerators while you wait for your entree. Eggs Sardou is a New Orleans twist on Benedict, nestling poached eggs in the tender cradle of artichoke hearts, atop creamed spinach, all drizzled with hollandaise. In the softshell crab po’ boy, two tender crustaceans, battered and fried whole, tussle for space on a French roll, atop pickles, cabbage and tomatoes. The sandwich is a perfect blend of low and high brow, and the perfect cure for Sunday morning malaise. ETHAN SMITH.http://eatoysterbar.com
Eleni's Estiatorio7712 SE 13th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97202-6348
[NEAT CRETE] Fun fact: Eleni Touhouliotis, the native Cretan who’s run this Sellwood neighborhood favorite for 11 years, is married to George Touhouliotis, the man who opened and for 20 years ran Portland’s iconic rock club Satyricon. You’d never guess, seated in a candlelit corner of the restaurant sipping a glass of Four Graces pinot gris, that you’re just three degrees removed from Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s first date. The only hint of rock and roll in Eleni’s earth-toned dining room is a hand-welded metal wine cabinet that wouldn’t be out of place in a dungeon. It’s too nice, you think, and then your waiter brings out a plate of booze-soaked, flaming cheese, and you remember that the Greeks, with their bull-men and many-headed serpents, were metal 3,000 years before the birth of Judas Priest. What’s more hard rock than chewing your way through a plate of grilled squid (schara kalamarakia), eating a handful of mushrooms (manitaria, sautéed with garlic, sage, thyme and pancetta), ripping the flesh off a bunny leg (kouneli stfatho, a rabbit quarter braised with seasonal vegetables), and downing a shot of ouzo? If they’d just crank the Wipers and stop cleaning the restrooms, it’d be perfect. BEN WATERHOUSE.http://elenisrestaurant.com
Evoe3731 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Ore. 97214-5145
[SLOW BAR FOOD] Evoe has always felt more like a bar than a restaurant to me. A place where you can pull a stool up to the big butcher-block counter and shoot the shit with the chefs. You glance at the day’s menu, scrawled in chalk on the blackboard. Tell them what you like, they’ll tell you what’s good. Conversation continues as they prepare your dishes, leisurely but attentively, and delicious plates of fresh, seasonal goodies sporadically appear. Most dishes feature very simple but elegant flavor combinations, and almost all are considerably more than the sum of their parts. On a recent visit, a salad made from thinly shaved slices of raw squash, soft and salty feta cheese, hazelnuts and mint was “summer” captured in a single, flawless dish. Thick slices of a light and fluffy garlic-puree tortilla española came with a lick-your-plate romesco sauce. A simple caprese salad was transformed with a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes. There is always a long list of very good sandwiches for a quick lunch, but if you have the time, put aside a few hours and sit down for two or three plates and a good conversation with the guy who made them. RUTH BROWN.http://pastaworks.com/evoe
Farm Café10 SE 7th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97214-1244
[LOCAVORE NIRVANA] Completely filling and overflowing from one of the inner east side’s last houses, Farm Cafe has had a steady and loyal following for years. After eight years and plenty of national accolades, the Farm has found a very successful formula, even if it no longer astounds with its inventiveness. Befitting its name, the Northwest fare here is fresh and brimming with local produce. Vegetarian offerings like goat cheese ravioli, herb-crusted tofu and beet carpaccio are served with the same attention given to grilled King salmon and pan-fried Idaho trout, pleasing diners of every dietary philosophy, if not those on diets. It’s comfort food for the locavore, and no wonder it’s packed nearly every night. The setting’s comfortable, too, whether inside amid the dim lights and charmingly creaky floors, or on the patio, where a summer’s dinner can stretch into hours. The occasionally slow kitchen can make a meal last that long whether you want it to or not, but with the bar’s extensive, Northwest-focused beer, cocktail and wine selection and homey desserts like sunken chocolate soufflé, you may not even notice the hours slipping by. CRAIG BEEBE.http://thefarmcafe.com
Firehouse711 NE Dekum St.
Portland, Ore. 97211-3627
[WOOD-FIRED ITALIAN] Once an actual working firehouse, this garden-wrapped restaurant now anchors the knot of development that has sprouted at Northeast Dekum Street and 15th Avenue. Ironically, a building once devoted to extinguishing fires now centers around one: Firehouse’s signature roast meats and pizzas all pass through the glowing eye of its wood burning oven. Fennel roasted pork shoulder and “thyme-scented” rotisserie chicken emerge with rich, smoky undertones—though they could use salt. Firehouse is competent with vegetables, too, like fried baby artichoke, crisp-fringed, tenderhearted, and dusted with Grana Padano. Likewise, grilled broccoli, making good use of that signature smoke, is rich yet fresh thanks to bright hits of anchovy, chili and lemon. Pizzas—the litmus test for any wood-fired oven—don’t disappoint; crisp-edged, they soften toward their centers for a pleasant textural contrast. Firehouse’s three-course, choose-your-own adventure is the ideal way to work through the menu. Don’t call it a prix fixe: Firehouse lets you pick any small plate, salad and pizza or entree for just $25. ETHAN SMITH.http://firehousepdx.com
Five Spice2446 SE 87th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97216-2010
[DEEP CHINESE] You know the story. Asian culinary gem buried in the grim sprawl of deep Southeast Portland. And from a strip mall on outer Southeast Division Street, Five Spice carries on this tradition, like Wong’s King Seafood, Lucky Strike and myriad pho joints before it. Don’t be intimidated by Five Spice’s lengthy menu. Conscientious servers will cheerfully shepherd you through accordion folds of soups, noodles, clay pots and roast meats—without steering you toward white people staples. Check the wipe-board, too, for veggie-heavy daily specials. Pan-fried dumplings make a good starting point. The pert, supple-skinned envelopes of ground pork and Chinese chives inspire the same sort of desperate, rhythmic consumption as Cheez-Its. Those same ingredients are reformulated into scallion pancakes, cut in wedges ideal for dunking in the soy-vinegar dipping sauce. When a veritable cauldron of wonton soup arrived, our server carefully apportioned it between us, ensuring there would be no ill feelings about uneven wonton distribution. Our solicitous waitress was back to deftly de-bone a fried whole flounder. Crisp-skinned and tender-fleshed, the fish was mounded with chopped fresh jalapeño, cilantro and scallions. The lone flat note of the meal was the signature five-spice roast duck, which was juicy but bland. But even if the dishes are inconsistent, dirt-cheap prices mean you can afford to work your way through the menu and cobble together your own ideal feast. ETHAN SMITH.
Frank's Noodle House822 NE Broadway
Portland, Ore. 97232-1216
[THROW ME A NOODLE] With all the rapturous hype over Frank and his noodles, the fact is often obscured that this is, first and foremost, a traditional Chinese-American restaurant of the old-school variety—neon-orange dipping sauces; General Tso’s; fabric roses with plastic dewdrops; the odd grammatical foible (“the best handmade noodles in the town,” proclaims the to-go menu). In fact, at the risk of sounding even more uncharitable, I suspect most food scenesters wouldn’t deign to enter Frank’s converted Northeast Broadway bungalow if it weren’t for the noodles. But, oh, those noodles. They’re thinner and chewier than udon, but thicker and more substantial than what you’d normally find in chow mein; you will spend way too much time ensuring you’ve uncovered every last irregularly shaped noodlet hidden among the cabbage. (It should be noted that the stir-fry vegetables listed on the menu as accompaniments—bell peppers, onion, celery—are so well-cooked as to be almost unnoticeable. This is a good thing.) Not craving carbs? The Korean BBQ section of the menu harbors some winners as well—try the subtly sweet marinated beef short ribs, sizzling loudly enough to disrupt the entire dining room, brought to your table on a cast-iron trivet in the shape of a jaunty cow. Don’t ask; just eat. KAT MERCK.
Genoa2832 SE Belmont St.
Portland, Ore. 97214-4024
[ITALIAN TWO WAYS] From 1971 to 2008, Genoa served high-priced prix-fixe menus of upscale Italian fare, in various incarnations—some reportedly better than others—before reopening after a year’s closure in 2009 to much acclaim under the reign of chef David Anderson. In 2011, Genoa evolved once again, adding a second, vegetarian set menu to its five-course offerings. This is not an only-if-you-ask kind of vegetarian menu, but a menu that is presented side by side with the omnivorous one—at the same $60 price tag, to boot. Much of the July menu showed an impressive amount of creativity and originality for a chef who has spent the past couple of years focusing almost entirely on flesh. An appetizer of sweet and smoky grilled apricots, nuts and endive on a smear of house-made yogurt was an elegant, thoughtful composition of flavors and textures. It can be hard to sell vegetarians on the merits of a pasta course, but a modest serving of Genoa’s chewy handmade spaghetti, served on this occasion in a creamy Provençal-style sauce with just a touch of sweetness from cherry tomatoes and peas, is enough to make one forget a lifetime of insipid starch bowls. Sadly, the main course, a dense bean stew, was less memorable. Although pleasant, this dish came as an anticlimax, lacking the depth of flavor and imagination shown in the preceding courses. It is still one of the better fancy meat-free meals you can get in Portland—and the overall experience is about as close to fine dining as this city comes—but a bit more evolution may be needed before the vegetarian menu is quite on par with the one for which Genoa is renowned. RUTH BROWN.http://genoarestaurant.com
Gilda's Italian Restaurant1601 SW Morrison St.
Portland, Ore. 97205-1816
[NONNA-STYLE] A large portrait of chef Marco Roberti’s grandmother Gilda hangs in the foyer of her namesake restaurant; she smiles approvingly at tables of other grandmas. Gilda’s, a Caesar-bust garnished hole-in-the-wall in the apartment district surrounding Jeld-Wen Field, has become a bluehair party destination—most nights, you’ll find two or three tables of senior celebrants raising their oversized wine glasses for toasts. The reasons for this demographic imbalance are a little obscure—it might be because Gilda’s is located a block from the Social Security office, or because its hours are suited to early-bird diners. But I’d guess Gilda’s appeal is based on the place being a distinctly Portland hybrid: It uses voguish, locally sourced meats in traditional, heavy Sicilian cooking. Here is the new wrapped in the familiar, like the prosciutto stuffed into Silvies Valley Ranch beef rolls to make Grandma’s Braciole. This dish, like many others, is drenched in a tomato sauce thick enough to remind you why Italians call it “gravy.” Grandma’s Meatballs, each the size of a baseball, are the house specialty: They’re available with spaghetti or as a stand-alone appetizer, polpette. I’d suggest getting them in the latter presentation, since that will allow you to order the lemon chicken as an entree. A Draper Valley breast covered in a zesty sherry sauce and mushrooms, it’s the strongest main course. The most breathtaking item on the menu is the fritto misto appetizer, a trawler-sized pile of squid, scallops and tiger shrimp, all battered and lightly fried. Plenty big enough to share, it would pair nicely with two glasses of pinot grigio as a pre-Timbers sidewalk seafood date. AARON MESH.http://gildasitalianrestaurant.com
Gilt Club306 NW Broadway
Portland, Ore. 97209-3511
[GRANTING INDULGENCES] Decadence has become a dirty word from overuse, but there are certain establishments that challenge abstemiousness with such aplomb that we are given no choice but to trot the hoary dog out. So, let’s get it out of the way: The Gilt Club is decadent, and it’s really good at helping diners revel, whether you’re on the sunny front patio or ensconced in a high-backed booth inside. Take, for instance, the BLT, which is not a sandwich here, but a cocktail-meal composed of tomato vodka, basil, lemon olive oil and bacon salt. Or, keeping things porcine, the gargantuan pork rinds, airy crisps with a sneaky mission to make your post-appetizer attempts at smart-phoning greasily impossible. Salads rely heavily on radishes, probably because those unassuming roots pose no viable health risk to bolder partners like creamy whipped goat cheese or house-cured bacon and pig ear. But that is all mere skippable prelude compared to peerlessly executed main dishes. Gilt’s twist on chicken and dumplings is especially overwhelming, with supple foie gras gnocchi soaking in a thick and salty truffled chicken broth that might finally perfect gravy, once and for all. And if a perfect gravylike pool of brown broth isn’t the dirty D-word, well, what is? CHRIS STAMM.http://giltclub.com
Gloria's Secret Café12500 SW Broadway St.
Beaverton, Ore. 97005-2136
[HOME-STYLE SALVADORAN] Gloria Vargas, chef-owner-server of Gloria’s Secret Cafe in old town Beaverton—on the same stretch as the neighborhood cobbler, barber and baker—likes to talk to her customers when she’s not hauling ass from the dining room to the kitchen. Know that she is frank. Says Vargas: “If I run out of rice and beans, I close. It’s pretty simple.” And be forewarned, clock-watchers, that service here can be slow. The Salvadoran menu is limited, since Vargas has one refrigerator, doesn’t believe in freezing food and cooks everything from scratch, but it’s always delicious. Golden saffron rice, black beans and a small citrusy mango, radish and cabbage salad come with every plate on the lunch and dinner menu, including the chocolaty chicken mole studded with anchos and poblanos, tender pork pupusas and the popular mango habanero chicken. If you’re thirsty there’s only water or Jarritos sodas, but you can bring your own beer or wine. Bring wine glasses, too. If you forget cash to pay for your tamales, chile verde or paella you can use the ATM at the Broadway Saloon next door for a $1.75 service charge. LIZ CRAIN.
Grüner527 SW 12th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97205-2304
[ALPINE DELIGHTS] Prior to Grüner’s arrival in 2010, the mere mention of dining anywhere even remotely Teutonic in Portland summoned images of dark, boisterous spaces filled with lederhosen- or dirndl-clad servers, gaudy beer steins and middling food. Chris Israel’s ode to the Alps is all about applying a nuanced and subtle touch to real workman-style cuisine, less a deconstruction or reinvention than a refinement. All the prerequisites are there—the juniper, dill, paprika—as evidenced by Grüner’s smashing choucroute garnie, a protein parade of pork, including a garlicky fresh saucisson and tender cider-braised belly lounging on a mound of warm sauerkraut, seasoned and prepared with a light touch, satisfying without leaving your belly leaden. You’d be remiss to pass on any of the restaurant’s diminutive but beautifully assembled salads, like the earthy, crunchy and refreshing shaved radish plate, dressed in pumpkin oil and a legion of fresh herbs. The beers on tap are in constant rotation, but if the weather cooperates, and they’re pouring one, order a weissbier or two and never worry about dusting off your Bayern hat again. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.http://grunerpdx.com
Ha VL Bánh Mì Thit2738 SE 82nd Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97266-1577
[SNAIL SOUP FOR THE SOUL] You have to keep your eyes peeled for Ha VL because it’s hidden away in the middle of the horseshoe of businesses off Southeast 82nd Avenue fronted by Wing Ming Herbs. The secret of this Vietnamese mom and pop noodle/sandwich shop’s success is the daily soup selection and the everyone-is-family feel. If you’re nice, chances are good that on your second visit you’ll be treated like a regular. There are always two daily rotating soups to choose from (unless you’re late and they’ve run out) including Thursday’s awesome snail noodle soup with thin slices of snail-pork-ginger-lemongrass loaf (don’t roll your eyes—it’s delicious) dunked in pork broth with rice noodles, fatty pork and fried tofu with a side of spicy ginger fish sauce and the usual fresh herbs, lettuce, cabbage and lime to add to your bowl as you please. Ha VL soups star things like turmeric noodles, peppery pork balls and savory shrimp cake, and swim in dreamy pork or chicken broth that servers circle the dining room with, ladling more into your bowl if you get low. There are always nine banh mi on the menu as well, which are good for dunking. LIZ CRAIN.
Higgins1239 SW Broadway
Portland, Ore. 97205-2915
[OG NW] The staff at Higgins double as concierges—thanks to Greg Higgins’ renown as a Northwest cuisine pioneer, and his prominence in Oregon tourism materials, the Broadway dining room attracts as many tourists as locals. Of course Portlanders have raved about Higgins for a long time, but it’s still an excellent place to meet with friends and business associates. (With its wide tables and high ceilings, it’s not the most romantic place in town.) Ultimately, it’s the food that still attracts, for its fresh succulence and also for its politics and localism. Here is a place where credit is given where it is due, both to the astounding network of farms and suppliers that Higgins has cultivated and to the staff which makes the dining experience as well choreographed and complementary as possible. Even the remarkably long beer menu highlights a beer steward and an assistant beer steward. From Higgins’ well-known affinity for pork (the charcuterie plate is worth a story in its own right), to the unexpected creativity and variety of vegetarian plates, Higgins continues to focus on the elements of service, sustainability, and quality that made Portland the foodie destination it has become. CRAIG BEEBE.http://higginsportland.com
Irving Street Kitchen701 NW 13th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97209-3098
[BARNYARD ROCK] Don’t ask me how you make fried chicken sexy, but chef Sarah Schafer has done it. She injects her Draper Valley cluckers with butter, Tabasco and garlic, and dips them in a cornstarch batter that shatters into feather-light shards as you devour each and every juicy bite. Schafer turns Southern food’s gut-bomb reputation inside out with her light, stylish take on southeastern cuisine at this barn-chic Pearl District warehouse where everything from the charcuterie plate’s mortadella to the rye graham crackers and stellar gravlax is made on site. The space is immense, with tall, wood-plank walls, milk-bottle chandeliers and steel girders, and yet the vibe is friendly, intimate and often reverberating with the sounds of The Clash and Velvet Underground. Many of the tables are hidden between library shelves or in small coves behind burlap curtains. The servers are genuinely excited about the food and will talk your ear off about the restaurant’s “Barrel to Bar” program, which pours excellent wines by the glass from full barrels of wine from Willamette Valley winemakers like Andrew Rich and Patricia Green every week or two. Recent entrees, like a hanger steak with garlic grits and a perfect seared snapper decorated with Johnston ham and grilled peaches, are great; but the crowning achievement here is the silky, sinful butterscotch pudding. It comes packed in a squat Ball jar, topped with crème fraîche and a ridiculously good roasted banana caramel, like some homespun hostess gift for God. You will eat every bite, lick the sides of the jar and still crave more. Lucky for you, they sell take-home jars for $6. KELLY CLARKE.http://irvingstreetkitchen.com
JCD Korean3492 SW Cedar Hills Blvd.
Beaverton, Ore. 97005-1348
[SIZZLING KOREAN] You might think, at first glance, that JCD is no more; just about every other business in its Beaverton strip mall is closed, and there’s a big “for lease” sign at the front of the lot. On closer inspection you’ll find that, yes, the lights are on inside this dinner-only Korean restaurant and all sorts of salty, spicy surf and turf are sizzling and steaming out of the kitchen. The menu is large, with 39 numbered items including grill-at-your-table foods and big-flavor soups and stir-fries. You get the requisite banchan (small plates of mostly pickled sweet, salty and spicy Korean foods) before your meal. They’re tasty and change often. The seafood scallion pancake that’s a staple at most Korean restaurants kicks ass here as an entree, overfilled with fresh squid and scallions in an egg-and-rice flour batter that’s both deliciously custardy and crisp. What is that small, shiny brown thing stuck to the wall next to your table? A digital bell for the kitchen. Don’t abuse it, mister. LIZ CRAIN.
June2215 E Burnside St.
Portland, Ore. 97214-1653
[FLOWER POWER] A dinner at June is intensely floral. By this I mean not only that the petite restaurant has the atmosphere of an indoor meadow—the ceiling lamps look like upside-down lilies, and each table is garnished with a tiny bouquet in a perfume bottle—but also that there are flowers in the food. Among entries on the rotating seasonal menu, a morel and foraged greens salad is garlanded with yellow clusters of red mustard petals, a walleye terrine is topped with arugula blossoms and sunflower sprouts, a lamb roast is sprinkled with apple blossoms, and the French yogurt cake blooms with bright purple violas. The experience is like eating from a carefully tended windowsill planter. Even in a city where veganism is approximately as popular as Catholicism, June’s approach marks a departure. Chef Gregory Perrault’s entrees are challenging; they demand your active engagement. You will not like everything you eat here: The entrees include experiments that run counter to the palate, and since the menu rotates, you will risk encountering one of these frustrating meals. It is worth the risk to taste the successes of cooking with such ambition. Service is excellent, and willing to offer useful study tips for the menu. The lesson is clear: Unfamiliarity breeds delight. AARON MESH.http://junepdx.com
Kenny & Zuke's1038 SW Stark St.
Portland, Ore. 97205-2610
[PASTRAMI, PASTRAMI] From the day it opened, Kenny & Zuke’s was a hit, and no wonder. Its linchpin, its foundation, its raison d’etre, namely Ken Gordon and Nick Zukin’s soul-stirring pastrami, had been thoroughly vetted by sellout brunch crowds at Ken’s now-defunct Home Plate restaurant. But the pastrami is just the beginning. Kenny & Zuke’s also makes its own bialys, bagels, pickles, a challah that is dynamite in French toast and a rye bread that has launched at least 10,000 Reuben sandwiches. And because this is a true New York-style deli, you can get specialty sodas here that are hard to find anywhere else, including Cel-Ray (celery) soda, sarsaparilla and at least five brands of root beer. And rugelach. You can even get noodle kugel here, and who makes that except Jewish grandmothers? Kenny & Zuke’s is a big, open, light-filled spot that happens to sit at the nexus of poverty-level SRO apartments, boutique hotels and some of Portland’s diviest bars. Combine that unique circumstance with a welcoming staff and a menu that anybody can understand, and you get a place where you’re likely to feel at home whether you wear Dockers, Doc Martens or orthopedic shoes. ANGIE JABINE.http://kennyandzukes.com
Ken's Artisan Pizza304 SE 28th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97214-1808
[WOOD-FIRED WONDER] While the adage “bread bakers make the best pizza” has yet to gain universal acceptance, it’s hard to fault its logic. Ken Forkish’s bread was renowned long before he started slinging pies, so it should come as no surprise that the pizzas his crew pulls from a massive wood-fired oven sport chewy, springy and crisp crusts with beautiful corniciones. The pizzas are 12-inch affairs designed for hungry individuals, but that shouldn’t deter couples from splitting one along with a salad or starter like the roasted vegetable plate: Seasonal produce brought to caramelized perfection in the oven, the wood imparting a smoky accent to the constantly changing produce. The basic Margherita pizza with arugula is a great way to establish a baseline for the flavors you can expect at Ken’s in subsequent visits (you will be back). The hints of sweetness in the sauce are married perfectly to the saltiness of the cheese and bitter, peppery bite of the arugula. More involved assemblages include a fennel sausage-laden version of the basic pie, festooned with onions and sweet-hot Calabrian chilis. Best to just start at the top of the menu and work your way down. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.http://kensartisan.com/pizza.html
Ken524 NW 14th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97209-2202
[ASIAN FUSION] At first blush, Kin seems like the shy new kid in the fashionable clique of Pearl District restaurants. But since opening in 2010, Kevin Shikami’s low-key Asian fusion bistro has been quietly but steadily ascending to the top of the heap. Kin’s menu shows why Food & Wine named Shikami Best New Chef in 1991. He’s surpassing his neighbors by seamlessly blending local ingredients, French technique and Eastern flavors, creating interesting and original dishes that are earning a cult following. Case in point, Kin’s steamed buns with pork belly: doughy, unleavened rice buns cradling hunks of smoky meat, their richness countered by spicy cabbage salad and bright herbal notes. Hamachi ceviche showcases Shikami’s deft hand with Southeast Asian flavors, expertly balancing mint, cilantro, basil, shiso, chili and ginger, and still preserving the lush essence of the tuna. But he is just as comfortable translating Korean, as evidenced by bone marrow treated with the ruddy chili notes of bulgogi spices—a must-order. European staples like goat cheese, gnocchi and risotto also make regular appearances on Kin’s constantly evolving menu. That this integration never seems forced, that rather than clash these divergent cuisines complement each other, is why Kin won’t remain quiet for long. ETHAN SMITH.http://kinpdx.com
Kurata450 5th St.
Lake Oswego, Ore. 97034-3059
[SOLID SUSHI] Breeze past Fuddruckers and Panda Express and all those big-box stores for jewels of raw fish piled high above ginger-dressed seaweed and greens (kaisen salad) at this secluded spot in the heart of Lake Oswego. It serves plenty of accessible maki (with real crab in the California rolls!) and tempura combos for the kids. But why not follow the lead of nostalgic Japanophiles and expats, drawn to the more authentic fare—pillowy takoyaki (octopus fritters), smooth chawan mushi (savory egg custard with ginkgo nuts), and chazuke (rice in broth, topped with sake or morsels of umeboshi and nori). The kaisou salad with four varieties of seaweed and a spritz of citrusy ponzu sauce doesn’t glow neon green. Come hide behind bamboo blinds during the quiet lunch service and have your pick of the restaurant’s eight tables. Sure, the menu’s more limited, but the Kuratas often entertain orders off the extensive dinner menu. Look for seasonal specials such as red snapper, albacore sashimi and kabocha squash tempura. Expect more fish nabe (hot pot) stews this winter. Next time, we’ll just sit at the small slab of sushi bar and let the chef surprise us, ordering omakase-style. LAURA MCCANDLISH.
Laurelhurst Market3155 E Burnside St.
Portland, Ore. 97214-1951
[CARNIVORE EMPIRE] Laurelhurst Market continues to put out some of the best meat in town. Do its owners’ meat-purveying pedigree and the attached retail butcher counter give the restaurant an unfair advantage over its competitors? Sure. Who cares? Where Dave Kreifels sources his protein matters less than his deft skill at cooking it. That the kitchen happens to have such stellar ingredients to work with is just a huge plus. Witness the glory of its Wagyu brisket, a fist-sized hunk of tender beef given half a day in the smoke and finished with a tangy barbecue sauce. If pork is more your speed, consider the mighty double-cut Tails & Trotters pork chop, a brined and smoked slab of hazelnut-finished porcine perfection. These days it’s served with cherries. Steaks and chops are served à la carte, which frees you up to select from the sides or salads, such as a fennel, arugula and beet salad tossed in a punchy mint vinaigrette that proves the kitchen’s prowess extends to produce.  BRIAN PANGANIBAN.http://laurhelhurstmarket.com
Lauro Kitchen3377 SE Division St.
Portland, Ore. 97202-1471
[COMFY CLASS] With the feel of a cozy neighborhood joint, plus chef-owner David Machado’s downtown pedigree, Lauro pulls off the tricky feat of being both homey and fancy. Solo regulars sit at the long counter watching the kitchen magic happen; meanwhile, couples in jeans and T-shirts occupy the room’s copper-topped tables alongside families. Even when it’s packed, the place never feels too crowded, which is good, because you’ll need a bit of elbow room to dig into these meals. A reliable favorite is the immense New York steak, served on a bed of kale with roasted potatoes and topped with a béarnaise sauce that might damn well make you weep. You could punch somebody out with the ossobuco. The seafood paella and the stuffed chicken are also very good. And no matter how full you feel, do not neglect the dessert menu: A recent crème brûlée special looked too pretty to eat, but that quality did not save the limoncello ice-cream sundae from being devoured. Hey, looks aren’t everything. BECKY OHLSEN.http://laurokitchen.com
Le Pigeon738 E Burnside St.
Portland, Ore. 97214-1219
[FAT FANCY] Like its namesake, Le Pigeon is small. Very small. Like, two communal tables small. You can see everything the chefs are doing, and they can see everything you’re doing. Passersby on the sidewalk can see what you’re eating, as can the people at your table, and everyone likes to talk about it. If you enjoy this sort of thing, you will love Le Pigeon. If not, you may want to hatch a plan in advance to pretend you don’t speak English, but go anyway; the food will be worth the trouble. Perhaps the most popular dish at our table was a perfectly executed salami-and-fennel risotto topped with shredded rabbit, ordered not only by us but a neighboring couple who, curiously (and fortuitously), spoke English only when ordering from the menu. Also of note was a juicy quail, its plump little appendages askew, on a bed of tripe and peppers that, for reasons unexplained—but also not unwelcome—tasted like the barbecue flavoring on Lay’s potato chips. Add a Summer of Riesling flight and you won’t be sorry. KAT MERCK.http://lepigeon.com
Lincoln3808 N Williams Ave., No 127
Portland, Ore. 97227-1468
[HEN MASTERS] The northern anchor of the impossibly bountiful Hub block, Jenn Louis’ Lincoln is a shrine dedicated to the city chicken. Not that other backyard hutch-to-table sacrifices don’t get their due—Louis pulls rabbit into a number of excellent dishes, including a sharp ricotta cavatelli with bunny ragu—but chicken is at the center of both menu and dining room, with an immense painting of a ruffled black rooster presiding over the ceremonies. Chicken is not the most exciting of the meats, and Lincoln doesn’t try to gussy it up: It just prepares the bird flat-out better than anywhere else in town. The eggs baked in cream with bread crumbs and Castelvetrano olives are justly famed, while the roasted half-chicken flaunts a breast so big it can’t be real—but it is, and deboned at that. Everything I’ve tried on the menu is a similar testimony to outstanding simplicity. The hanger steak and caramelized onions on a bed of polenta temporarily converted me to polenta; the cornmeal onion rings came without sauce, and didn’t need any; and the sundae required nothing more than ice cream and fudge. In short: Eat more Lincoln. AARON MESH.http://lincolnpdx.com
Little Bird Bistro219 SW 6th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97204-1805
[FRENCH CONFECTION] Le Pigeon chef Gabe Rucker’s new French theme restaurant is already the hottest power lunch downtown. The clubby decor befits the bankers and lawyers who fill the place the moment the doors are unlocked, but the suits swarm down from Big Pink less for atmosphere than for cheap foie gras, $4 half-martinis and Rucker’s wonderful mess of a burger, a half-pounder slathered in slaw and grilled onions and stuffed into a ciabatta roll from Ken’s Artisan Bakery. Lunchtime’s boisterous bonhomie gives way to a less congenial atmosphere at dinner. The tables are a little too wide and the banquettes a little too deep for intimate conversation, and the dining room’s tables are jammed so close together that elbowing one’s neighbors is a real risk. Sit at the bar, which is quieter than the dining room, and order modestly: Split the absolutely perfect duck confit, the mussels in a saffron-scented broth and two or three sides. Have a couple of glasses of wine (there are several choices, most of them reasonably priced). Then go completely berserk on two, or maybe even three desserts. Pastry chef Lauren Fortgang, formerly of Paley’s Place, completely upstages the dinner menu with treats like a hazelnut-milk chocolate financier (a large hazelnut chocolate-chip cookie with praline ice cream and candied kumquats), croquant marmelade (alternately crisp and foamy layers of chocolate and caramel, served with bits of preserved orange) and coconut cake with passionfruit sorbet (a winning combination of moist cake and shockingly bright fruit). BEN WATERHOUSE.http://littlebirdbistro.com
Lovely's Fifty-Fifty4039 N Mississippi Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97227-1476
[PLAY DOUGH] Mississippi Avenue may be free of gang violence these days, but a new type of menace now prowls the street: hip, young parents with designer bike trailers full of toddlers in tow. They seek craft beer and artisanal food, but they also need highchairs and something kid-friendly to cram inside little Augusten and Zooey’s traps for a few minutes’ peace. Unfortunately for the nonbreeders among us, Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty fits the bill all too well with tasty, simple, thin-crust pizzas, seriously good ice cream and unusually patient staff. The lesson: Go early or go late—but do go, because Lovely’s is firing some of the better pies in Portland without the insane lines of its competitors. The chewy 12-inch crusts emerge like delicious burn victims from the wood-fired oven, bubbly and charred on the outside but soft and airy inside. Each has a small but eclectic range of toppings, from the classic—cherry tomato, ricotta and basil—to the surprising—sweet corn kernels and summer chanterelles—and a good handful of fresh herbs on top. The ice cream is just as good as the pizza, if not better. The perennial salted caramel is a perfect example of the genre, but there are also plenty of more interesting seasonal specials. Best of all, you can get it all to go, enabling a hasty retreat when the preschool set descends. RUTH BROWN.http://lovelysfiftyfifty.com
Lucky Strike3862 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Ore. 97214-5257
[HOT STUFF] Lucky Strike, buried in a space that seems better suited for a yoga studio, crammed up against the oft-noisy Hawthorne Theatre, is hard to find. And when you do find it, its aesthetic—a self-aware, decidedly 21st-century Szechuan joint that refuses to take itself too seriously—lends itself to suspicion. Plus, the place’s name makes one think of bowling. But no, it’s “strike” as in, “strike a match.” And oh, how it burns. Dishes like hot pepper chicken bath and spicy pig intestine are the best visual representations of Lucky Strike’s sadistic spicy streak: They just look like giant mounds of hot peppers until you dig around to reveal the meat within. The former is tender, wet-hot and best served with some steamed white rice; the latter is, well, pig butthole—it reminds a bit of calamari in texture, and fatty bacon in taste. It’s great. Like many of Lucky Strike’s dishes, the Szechuan peppers in the intestine are numbing to the tongue, a sensation that is at first unsettling and then addicting. To bring your tongue back to life, try a cooling Oriental Express (a cocktail mixing lemongrass ginger vodka with pear purée) or just keep the blaze aflame with a Passion Pit, which tastes like orange juice shot out of a cannon and into your mouth. Lucky Strike does offer mild options, though the bland fried rice is best avoided in favor of the rich Guinness pork ribs, which taste just as rich and naughty as the name would imply. CASEY JARMAN.http://luckstrikepdx.com
Masu406 SW 13th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97205-2359
[UMAMI FEST] When you’re ready to break away from the low-rent sushi-go-rounds that serve raw fish on a fish-stick budget, Masu is a great upgrade that won’t have you taking out a second mortgage on the house. Despite the downtown locale and slick decor, Masu fields some impressively high bang-for-the-buck dishes alongside the de rigueur miso and sunomono. In a romaine and crispy burdock salad, the nutty crunch of the burdock is a nice contrast to the tangy feta bound together by the tiny yolky payload of a soft-boiled quail egg. Buri daikon is another winner, with a tender collar of yellowtail braised with radish in a soy reduction sauce. Sushi-wise, you’ll find no pre-packaged tamago here—Masu’s take on the classic omelet nigiri is subtly sweet. If you like contrasts in textures, go for the bobby lo roll, with creamy avocado, the snap of cucumbers and lightly fried albacore tempura. If you don’t want to think too much, just get a dozen orders of the impossibly buttery, house-smoked chinook salmon. You’ll feel like you spent twice its $6 price. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.http://masusushi.com
Meat Cheese Bread1406 SE Stark St.
Portland, Ore. 97214-1440
[SUBLIME SANDWICHES] There would be far fewer incidences of workplace violence if everyone started their mornings with a breakfast burrito from this tiny sandwich shop. Owner John Stewart and crew roll up fluffy scrambled eggs, bacon, crunchy-soft hash browns, cheddar and a mellow-green chili sauce in a flour tortilla and then plop it on the grill to get a bit crunchy—a simple preparation that’s impossible to replicate at home (I’ve tried). Lunch has its own charms: grilled green beans squished up with vinegary bacon relish and soft-boiled eggs on baguette or a no-nonsense turkey on sourdough piled inches high with bacon, Havarti and crisp lettuce. The juicy pulled pork tastes more like pot roast than barbecue, its precious juices mingling with aioli, salsa verde and some grilled broccoli in a baguette sponge. The shop shares its space with crazy sweets man David Briggs (of Xocolatl de David), so it’s mandatory to grab a chocolate to go. But don’t overlook the rest of the excellent desserts, especially the warm blueberry bread pudding, an eggy, moist flavor bomb that gets crisped up on the grill before it heads to your mouth. KELLY CLARKE.http://meatcheesebread.com
Meriwether's2601 NW Vaughn St.
Portland, Ore. 97210-2223
[FRESH PRINCE] As one of the standard-bearers of Portland’s farm-to-table movement, Meriwether’s isn’t content merely to purchase its produce, dairy and meats from local producers—it actually owns its own farm. Visit the restaurant in high summer and you’ll be rewarded with squash, greens, berries and other delights pulled fresh from the restaurant’s Skyline Boulevard terroir. Sometimes the menu trips over itself trying to put together all the goods at once; best to steer away from dishes with too many players, and instead look for choices like the meatball tagine over couscous or, even better, choose from among the inventive small plates that make up the signature “pantry boards.” The morsels are tiny bursts of culinary inspiration: delightful cheeses flanked by a fresh honeycomb; chicken-fried sweetbreads; Oregon curried anchovies. There’s another reason to visit in the warmer months: The garden patio at Meriwether’s is one of the best outdoor dining spots in town, festive yet elegant and warmed by heat lamps, outdoor fire pits and al fresco romantic sparkle. JONANNA WIDNER.http://meriwethersnw.com
Metrovino1139 NW 11th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97209-3469
[WINE-GEEK HEAVEN] In terms of ambiance, you’ll get more pleasure watching the Pearl District scene outside Metrovino’s big street-side windows than you will from surveying the forgettable posh interior. That said, you’ve got to eat here. Few kitchens treat this region’s market basket with so much respect and skill, whether it’s the maple-brined pork chop with Tuscan white beans, butter-braised chard, onion rings and herb aioli or the grilled salmon filet with blistered cherry tomatoes and Padrón peppers, pine nuts and olive panisse. Then there’s the wine program. Those of us who like to order wine by the glass realize you bottle-buyers think we’re getting robbed on the markup. We don’t care. Call it oenological ADD, but we really appreciate Metrovino’s Enomatic wine-preserving system, because it enables us to choose from as many as 90 wines by the glass, or by the taste. Take advantage! For $14.50, the “Sparkling Smackdown” gives you a generous flight of three bubblies from Spain, France and Oregon to compare and contrast with your dinner partner. If bubbles aren’t your thing, there are more than 20 other flights to choose from, ranging from “heavyweights” and biodynamic reds to Northern European whites and New World Rhône Reds. Don’t worry, your server will keep it all straight. This is definitely play time for wine geeks. ANGIE JABINE.http://metrovinopdx.com
Mirakutei536 E Burnside St.
Portland, Ore. 97214-1147
[SUSHI AND RAMEN] The newest addition to East Burnside’s eating and drinking row is a small box of a restaurant, a frill-free space of glass and concrete. The menu borders on Japanese please-all, with a range of ramens, some sushi and a long list of small plates. The common denominator is chef and owner Hiro Ikegaya, who ran the now-closed Hiroshi in the Pearl District. Sit at the five-seat sushi bar (open at dinner only) and listen to the elder explain how things were before you were born. Then watch him combine the past and present on your plate. For example, he can playfully prepare a single fish. Kelp-infused halibut comes carpaccio style with anchovy garlic sauce, as straight-up sashimi with fresh wasabi or nigiri style, sprinkled with a citrus fleur de sel. In another nod to the French, even Julia Child would be impressed by Ikegaya’s sauces and broths. In the original ramen—a rich, earthy broth made with chicken, pork and vegetables—floats a mass of noodles, pork medallions, bean sprouts, sliced green onions and bamboo shoots. Pay attention to chalkboard specials, which, if you’re lucky, include grilled yellowtail collar served with a vinegar dipping sauce that perfectly cuts through the rich, smoky fish. Feeling trusting? Call a day ahead and order the omakase, a full chef’s-choice sushi experience. LUCY BURNINGHAM.http://mirakuteipdx.com
Nakwon4600 SW Watson Ave.
Beaverton, Ore. 97005-0543
[BANCHAN BONANZA] At Korean restaurants, the best eats are often what you don’t order. I’m talking about banchan, the table-cluttering profusion of cold nibbles that come gratis with every meal. Casual Beaverton standby Nakwon is the king of banchan: crunchy bean sprouts perfumed with sesame oil, puckery kimchi, soft egg cake, fishy seaweed and opalescent mung-bean cake—the savory Jell-O of the Asian world. It’s all impossibly fresh tasting and eye-wateringly spicy. Shove all those tiny plates to the side (but don’t let the server take them away) to make room for a hot platter of stir-fried kimchi with pork belly—so good it often sells out by 6 pm—or a mellow tofu stew swimming with sea creatures served in a cauldron the size of a football helmet. There’s a brain-bending number of soups, noodles and rice dishes to try, from cold, slippery buckwheat noodles, radish and cucumber in a sweet/smoky sauce to sizzling bibimbap, or you can just go the kitchen-sink route and slurp the “military stew,” which features tofu, sausage, ramen, bacon and Spam. KELLY CLARKE.
Navarre10 NE 28th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97232-3145
[SMALL PLATES] I can’t think of a more awkward place to eat alone than Navarre. Chuck E. Cheese’s, maybe? Dining at the Laurelhurst neighborhood tapas joint, with its high-stacked shelves of canned vegetables and elaborate wine list, feels like an informal dinner party. Flying solo here would feel like attending said party uninvited. Half the joy of eating at Navarre comes from trading adorable plates of, say, the buttery, crispy cabbage gratin or lightly salted saffron rice and chicken like they were baseball cards. While items like roasted carrots and crab cakes are upmarket takes on classic comfort food favorites, seasonal specials like the arugula and watermelon salad or the lamb, which smells like wet cat food but tastes like heaven, are a little more refined. Most of Navarre’s menu is made up of items that are good-looking but not showy, mixes of sweet and savory that are more utilitarian than pretentious. If they’ve got some exceptionally good kale, expect a few kale dishes to show up on the menu. At brunch, much of the menu looks like classic diner fare until it arrives on your table less greasy and salty than you had expected (the surprisingly light prosciutto-based eggs Benedict tasted ever so slightly of a tomato which was definitely not there; the bacon, devoid of the usual fat-masking pepper flakes, was chewy like warm beef jerky). Don’t skimp on dessert. The pies and cakes make for a well-deserved indulgence after pecking at some generally wholesome dinner or brunch items. After all, you’re basically at home: You might as well loosen your belt and let that belly hang out. CASEY JARMAN.http://navarreportland.blogspot.com
Ned Ludd3925 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blv.d
Portland, Ore. 97212
[RUSTIC TWEE] For a restaurant bearing the namesake of the Luddites, some might find Ned Ludd’s aesthetic conveniently, even suspiciously à la mode—flannel-clad bartenders, picnic tables, Mason jar glassware, air plants, terrariums (“Welcome to TGI Portland’s,” groaned my dining companion). Most, however, will be hard-pressed not to find at least a kernel of endearment in the mismatched thrift-store chandeliers and decor that can best be described as “Grandma’s kitchen”—provided it’s 1971 and your grandma happens to be a wood-chopping, heirloom pepper-canning, Buzzcocks-listening botanist with a passion for decorative copper-cake molds. It should come as no surprise that what Ned Ludd does best is fresh, simple and minimally adorned, so in interpreting the menu, which is divided into appetizers (“forebits”), cold small plates (kaltbits), warm small plates (“warmbits”) and entrees (“plats”), ignore the concessionary diversions for philistines who don’t eat their vegetables, such as the meat pie and insipid mac ’n’ mornay. Start instead with a salad, such as the spinach with strawberries, chèvre, pickled red onions and saba, paired with flatbread fresh out of the dining room’s enormous wood-fired brick oven. Eating on the outside patio is highly recommended, but lest the destructive ghost of Ned himself be lurking in the bushes, be sure to keep that iPhone in your pocket. KAT MERCK.http://nedluddpdx.com
New Seoul Garden10325 SW Canyon Road
Beaverton, Ore. 97005-1918
[DIY BBQ] New Seoul Garden’s mishmash decor of bamboo screens and floral booths may make you want to head back out the door. Don’t. This Korean barbecue spot offers mouthwatering meals with some assembly required. Slap some bulgogi (thin slices of marinated rib eye) on the gas grill built into your table. Or try sizzling up the pork belly or beef sirloin as you watch the drama unfold on the Korean soap opera playing on the TV overhead. Then dab the cooked meat in salted sesame oil or fermented bean paste and wrap it up in a piece of lettuce. Each meal includes all the banchan you can eat from a buffet full of salty, tangy, spicy sides such as bean sprouts, bok choy, and several kimchis—daikon, cabbage and zucchini. If you don’t feel like manning the grill, order the hot stone bibimbap, a filling portion of rice, beef, bok choy and other goodies topped with a raw egg yolk. Mix it all up with your metal chopsticks, and the hot bowl cooks the yolk and keeps everything at a scald-your-mouth temperature. DENISE CASTAÑON.
Nostrana1401 SE Morrison St.
Portland, Ore. 97214-2777
[RUSTIC ITALIAN] The cavernous space defined by a curved wood-beamed ceiling and an impressive wall of booze behind a long bar shouts that you’re in for an experience. But the food at Nostrana speaks even louder, thanks to chef Cathy Whims’ deft way with superior ingredients and simple preparations. We’re talking rustic Italian fare here, like perfect pizzas that begin as discs sliding in and out of the white-tiled, wood-fired oven. They arrive on the table whole, alongside scissors for polite piece-making, with a bubbled, black-charred crust with a little bend, the perfect vehicle for balances of mozzarella, tomato sauce, paper-thin prosciutto or creamy mascarpone. Try the radicchio salad, which comes bathed in a creamy dressing punctuated by crunchy, fragrant croutons, before you move on to something more substantial. Dry-aged flat iron steak comes in neat slices of ruby rareness served atop peppery arugula—an ultimate show of respect for both plant and animal. Italophiles will want to spend some time with the wine list, a juicy regional novella that will inspire Eurail pass fantasies. LUCY BURNINGHAM.http://nostrana.com
Nuestra Cocina2135 SE Division St.
Portland, Ore. 97202-1242
[MEXICAN MIRACLES] With no shortage of fine taquerias and Mexican food carts, I sometimes wonder why anyone would spend their hard-earned cash on classy south-of-the-border cuisine. Oh yeah, this is why. The plates at Nuestra Cocina look like works of art, and the meat makes me want to weep with joy. Time seems to slow inside this airy, comfortable Division Street restaurant, whether you’re at a table, watching the chefs scurry about at the kitchen-side bar or chilling on the plant-lined patio. That’s a good thing, because these dishes will get your heart racing pretty quickly. Steak comes served in a shallow moat of beans and smoky enchilada sauce that tastes like both mole and chipotle; the pork tacos are juicy and elegantly arranged. It’s those little things—the tacos, the sauce, the chips—that put Nuestra Cocina a few pegs above the standard Portland Mexican food outing, but the big things work, too: The big-ass stuffed poblano chili comes slightly charred, leaking well-cooked squash and half-melted Oaxacan cheese; the tamarind-marinated prawns are scary-big, waiting to be stripped of their little shrimp suits and dipped in the zingy salsa dip. And Nuestra Cocina even helped along my growing obsession with spicy cocktails—the Cocina Especial, a hot twist on the classic lime margarita, added a little kick that most of the dishes lack. You don’t go here to burn your tongue: You go for large portions of very classy comida. Nuestra Cocina can upsell me any time. CASEY JARMAN.http://nuestra-cocina.com
Ocean City3016 SE 82nd Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97266-2024
[CHINESE BANQUET] Ocean City was named well: When you’re dining in the enormous, chandeliered and carpeted dining room, you really do feel like you’re on a cruise ship. Unfortunately, there are no washed-up lounge acts at Ocean City (unless you book your own for a private party in the back). Dim sum, served daily from 9:30 am to 3 pm, is really what you want here. But if you come for dinner, the several hundred-item menu is a beauty to behold. Go for one of the steamy and tender clay pot stews: the beef with enoki mushrooms; spicy seafood with scallops, shrimp, tofu and slivers of garlic; or the spicy eggplant and black cod. For dim sum, be sure to nab the cart with the shrimp-draped wide rice noodles that are cut with scissors table-side as well as the jalapeño topped with shrimp and black bean sauce—essentially an Asian jalapeño popper—the shrimp, corn and cilantro dumplings and the steamed pork buns. LIZ CRAIN.http://oceancityportland.com
Olympic Provisions107 SE Washington St.
Portland, Ore. 97214-2103
[CHIC CHARCUTERIE] With its minimal signage and slightly isolated Produce District location, Olympic Provisions gives a desolate first impression. But that quickly wears off once you find your way inside. Gaze through the window behind the bar and you’ll see rows and rows of dangling cured pork products awaiting consumption. (One of the restaurant’s many slogans is “We make you feel swine.”) Don’t get the wrong idea, though—Olympic Provisions devotes care and imagination to lots of things besides pork. I loved its unusual salad of jasmine rice, avocado, sweet corn, snap peas, scallions and basil. And the olive oil-poached albacore tuna with tomato, cucumber and olives on bread may be the best niçoise-style, open-faced tuna sandwich I’ve ever had. I can’t say the same for the slightly rubbery squid with fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes and bacon; then again, my dining companion loved it. We both loved unreservedly the dark chocolate “salami,” not just because it looks exactly like salami, but also because it is richly and sweetly flecked with candied dried fruits and served (another stroke of invention) with salt-and-pepper shortbread cookies. Match that with a tumbler of Château Roumieu-Lacoste Sauternes and see if you don’t float away into the night. ANGIE JABINE.http://olympicprovisions.com
Otto1852 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Ore. 97214-3816
[JOYFUL BISTRO] Let’s be unorthodox and start with dessert. Dinner is finished, and in a flurry of jabbing spoons, the members of our three-top compete for real estate in a generous bowl of salted caramel gelato drowning in espresso and dotted with cacao nibs. This delight is the creation of Kim Stanton, a Michigan transplant and co-proprietor of Otto (with hubby Francis Stanton), a quiet little charmer that opened in May. What preceded dessert was a pitch-perfect meal that was unassuming, intimate and meant for genuine enjoyment. As a starter, the braised pork belly does nothing fancy; its ample decadence and caramelized top is meant to enhance the small bites of olives, tomatoes and fingerling potatoes that join it in a fennel sherry reduction. A pair of confit duck legs is smartly married to a light, bright pilaf, with pistachios, lychees and kumquats, the latter adding a sweet pizazz. A perfectly grilled white sturgeon is guarded by a pair of cornmeal dumplings, and a plate of short ribs is peppered with fried chickpeas and roasted cauliflower. As we inquire about the inventive and reasonably priced cocktail list, Kim Stanton produces a bottle of Cana’s Feast Chinato, a unique, herb- and spice-laced, wine-based digestif. Pouring samples, she explains how the chinato is produced and a bit about the Carlton vineyard where it’s made. The entire meal is filled with such personal and homey, yet refined, touches. The Stantons clearly are excited about food, not about showing off. But if they succumbed to the lure of the latter, who could blame them? JONANNA WIDNER.http://ottopdx.com
Paley's Place1204 NW 21st Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97209-1609
[NUEVO ’90S] In 1995, Vitaly Paley defected from the stuffy NYC restaurant scene where he’d made his bones and did something innovative. He commandeered an old house in Northwest Portland to execute his own local, seasonal vision of haute cuisine. He’s since become the national face of Portland food, penning a popular cookbook and racking up Food Network cameos. In 2005, he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Northwest. However, what was innovative in 1995 is stagnant in 2011. Local/seasonal mantra has trickled down to food carts and taquerias. And the French-cum-Northwest cuisine that Paley’s Place pioneered when Seinfeld was still airing new episodes is now the default genre for many new Portland restaurants. Since 1995, Portland’s culinary scene has exploded, and we can thank Paley, and a handful of other innovators, for lighting the fuse. But currently, Paley’s Place seems complacent, living off its reputation. Its prices are easily keeping up with inflation, but everything else is behind the times, from the decor—faux-vintage wall clocks and Pier One Art Nouveau posters—to the graying clientele. A starter of braised greens was over-salted and puckering, lazily mounded in a white ceramic ramekin. Sounding like a sure winner, a dish of sweetbreads with pork belly and pickled cherry salad was lackluster. The salad consisted of two cherries and lacked the acidic bite to cut through the rich proteins. There are still glimmers of Paley’s genius, like plump rabbit ravioli dressed with bacon and tender, earthy mushrooms. In the end, Paley’s place is still good—but perhaps not good enough to justify its reputation or price point for cash-strapped diners. ETHAN SMITH.http://paleysplace.com
Park Kitchen422 NW 8th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97209-3529
[CULINARY URBANISM] From the bocce players in the North Park Blocks just across the street, to the warm dining room and friendly, attentive service, Park Kitchen seems the essence of urbanist dining, with a touch of European flair but solid Portland roots. The menu’s offerings toy with multiple meanings of “fresh”—yes, it tastes like it’s just been brought in from the farm (and it has), but also “fresh” in the sense of teasing, surprising, even a bit seductive. The kitchen plays with texture, color and arrangement throughout the menu of small and large plates, perfect for sharing. A recent meal highlighted summer’s best in several styles—watermelon fresh in a salad, frozen into a sweet granita, and its tangy rind in another salad and dessert. Mint energized a sauce accompanying delicate albacore, enlivened pesto alongside rack of lamb, and brightened a watermelon granita. Accentuated by creative cocktails and an impressive wine list, everything comes together remarkably smoothly. It’s no wonder that Park Kitchen has attracted crowds for nearly a decade. What’s astounding is that it still feels very fresh indeed. CRAIG BEEBE.http://parkkitchen.com
Pho An6236 NE Sandy Blvd.
Portland, Ore. 97213-4502
[VIETNAMESE BASICS] There’s no other restaurant in Portland, as far as we know, where older men in sky-blue polo shirts deliver your food on cafeteria trays. If this isn’t reason enough to visit Pho An, then go for the pizzle. Pho Ngau Pin is noodle soup with bull penis, or pizzle. I have not tried it, but you probably should. The 20-plus pho noodle soups here are really good and slurp-worthy. Watch out for the men in the dining room who seem slightly overcaffeinated when they shake the moisture off their fresh herbs before tossing them into their soup. They may bruise or mist you. Even if you don’t order one of the pho soups, most of the entrees, such as the spicy lemongrass chicken with pickled vegetables and broken rice, and the meat platter with ground beef wrapped in betel leaf, with grilled pork and shrimp paste-wrapped sugarcane, come with a small bowl of beef broth so you don’t feel left out. LIZ CRAIN.http://phoansandy.com
Pho Van1919 SE 82nd Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97216-1405
[PLEASANT PHO] Pho Van manages to put a gloss of sophistication on your average, rough-edged pho joint, but without sacrificing authenticity or affordability. The staples don’t disappoint. Sloshing, steaming bowls of pho pair rich, subtly spiced broth with lean brisket and al dente rice stick, classically garnished with basil, bean sprouts, jalapeño and lime chunks. And the honey-lemongrass pork vermicelli bowl is freshness itself, dressing delicate noodles, pickled carrot-daikon slaw, crisp fried onions, and charcoal-edged pork with spicy-sweet nuoc mam. But venture beyond the basics at Pho Van, and you’ll be rewarded. Banana blossom salad is a collage of vivid textures and flavors: flash-fried blossom, julienned jicama, grapefruit and toasted sesame seeds. The crispy crepe is a half-moon of savory satisfaction, mingling pork, shrimp and mung beans, with subtle undertones of egg and turmeric. And braised duck soup proves heartier than pho, ideal for Portland’s drearier days. Shiitakes and bok choy contribute earthy notes to the warming broth. ETHAN SMITH.http://phovanrestaurant.com
Piazza Italia1129 NW Johnson St.
Portland, Ore. 97209-3062
[PASTA PERLA] Folks looking for candle-lit two-tops, checkered tablecloths and cheap Chianti should steer clear of Piazza Italia. Although its name might evoke Godfather fantasies, this family-owned Pearl District cornerstone is a brightly lit, bopping ristorante, with a ceiling covered in soccer jerseys and every one of the many television sets in the joint tuned to the beautiful game. In lesser hands, the spot could come off as an Italian version of a sports bar; instead, founder Gino Schettini (who passed away in 2007) left behind a legacy of authenticity, right down to the waiters shouting Italian to each other as they bustle about the always-packed tables. (Be sure to make a reservation.) The menu is blessedly simple, relying more on execution than innovation. The house pappardelle, which can and should be substituted for any pasta on the menu, straddles the wisp of a border between al dente and overcooked, while the linguine squarciarella, made with eggs, prosciutto, onions and Parmesan, belies the simplicity of its parts, thanks to meat and cheese carefully culled from the charcuterie case that guards the front door. No matter what you choose from the menu, you can’t go wrong here—even the little poofy cubes of bread are transcendent. JONANNA WIDNER.http://www.piazzaportland.com
Ping102 NW 4th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97209-3804
[ON A STICK] It is Portland blasphemy to suggest that any establishment surpasses Pok Pok for Asian cuisine, but I’ll go ahead and say it: Andy Ricker’s second restaurant, Ping, is more ambitious and even better than its older, more popular sister. A seductive wooden love shack under the resurrected Hung Far Low sign, Ping now rivals Magic Garden as the most decadent nightspot in Chinatown. Don’t believe me? Grab a friend, walk in and order two Singapore slings (Pok Pok barkeep Dave Kaufman has concocted an evolutionary version) and the kha muu thawt—that’s a huge pork shank, deep-fried in a Thai-German recipe that imbues the crust with an unforgettable smack of ginger, then served with tart pickled mustard greens and two dipping sauces. That dish is the heavy-gravity planet around which all the other, smaller plates revolve: You could grab Vietnamese-style short ribs or boar skewers, quail eggs wrapped in bacon with a dab of spicy mayo, or a lip-burning Thai prawns-and-ramen salad called yam mama. Nothing disappoints. Every item is designed to make you thirsty; every drink makes another small plate sound like heaven. Very little on the Ping menu costs more than $10, yet it is hard to leave without spending five times that, and feeling grateful for the opportunity. Crane your head to the corner and notice the bank of World War II-era radios covering an enclave wall—you can almost imagine that a culinary Tokyo Rose is whispering supplications to lose yourself forever in snacks. AARON MESH.http://pingpdx.com
Pok Pok3226 SE Division St.
Portland, Ore. 97202-1455
[AROI MAAK] That means delicious. And it is. Pok Pok not only nails the most important flavors of Southeast Asian street food, but also the presentation (no chopsticks, dammit), regional awareness and general sabai sabai vibe, especially in the breezy patio area. These are tricky feats to pull off an ocean away from Chiang Mai. Chef Andy Ricker and his kitchen deserve credit for creating an experience that tastes and feels more like eating in Thailand than the familiar kind of restaurants supported by the Thai government’s export-promotion program, which has been known to encourage chefs to tone down their food for Western palates. In Bangkok, this is a cause for some hand-wringing. Last year, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand hosted a panel asking, “Are the best new Thai chefs farang?” (i.e., white Westerners). In Portland, the answer is clear—one of them is. The evidence is all over the menu at Pok Pok. If you’re eating alone and have never tried khao soi, a hard-to-find Northern Thai curry soup served over crispy noodles, start with that. Remember: Spoon in the right hand, fork in the left. If you’re sharing with friends, order some kai yaang—eastern Thai barbecued chicken—and sticky rice (khao niew). Eat both with your hands. All that’s missing is a tabletop tissue dispenser, a bottle of rotgut rice whiskey (served over soda with ice, hence the namesake lounge Ricker opened across the street, which has better booze than the name implies), a rickety plastic stool and a few large horseflies on the table. Seriously, order anything. The only reason not to go to Pok Pok is that you might have to wait in line. COREY PEIN.http://pokpokpdx.com
Portobello Vegan Tratorria1125 SE DivisionSt.
Portland, Ore. 97202
[VEGAN VINDICATION] It’s a shame that the attribute of “vegan” in Portobello’s name carries so much baggage in the minds of many diners. You won’t find over-salted, one-note tofu dishes here—Aaron Adams’ animal-friendly eatery is top to bottom an excellent restaurant, full stop. Mushroom “rillettes” are really pâté-like in their consistency, but the uncanny gaminess and earthy flavor of the mushrooms means the lack of offal can be safely ignored. Their plump, toothsome gnocchi with vegetable ragu and ridiculously good red sauce—they could build a whole menu on “stuff+red sauce” and still be worthy of this guide—can stand with any meat-laden gravy and still shine. A recent dish of stuffed chard over polenta boasted creamy grains with a crispy exterior and greens so tender you could cut them with a harsh glance. A word of warning: Other vegan eateries may not have prepared you for satisfying portions that don’t leave you hungry less than an hour later, so be careful not to over-order. You’ll need room for the stunning tiramisu. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.http://portobellopdx.com
Red Onion1123 NW 23rd Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97210-2903
[Thai-NoMite] My first impression of Red Onion was a resounding “meh.” I ordered some chicken pad thai, and it seemed a little safe. As I’d soon learn, taking the path of least resistance is a poor decision at Red Onion. Rather than go with the pad thai or the perfectly tasty tofu red curry, it’s best to order from Red Onion’s ever-changing specials menu (a recent example was a salmon salad served with strawberries and a light, citrus sauce), or pick one of Red Onion’s more interesting dishes, like the incredible volcano beef, a hearty stir fry that brings you to Bangkok via Dallas, with juicy steak chunks, mango and asparagus. For lighter appetites, Red Onion makes a fine papaya salad topped with cherry tomatoes, and most variations of fried rice—especially the nuts Chinese sausage fried rice, which comes sprinkled with dry, jerky-style dried pork—are a little less chunky than many of the main courses. To see just how nutty Red Onion gets, try the po pia sod, the Cadillac of salad rolls, which is piled high with tofu, crab and a rich, unidentifiable goo. If you order the kinds of dishes that make Red Onion special, you’ll see what makes this place shine. CASEY JARMAN.http://redonionportland.com
Restaurant Murata200 SW Market St., No. P105
Portland, Ore. 97201-5700
[JAPANESE] In one of the city’s most vaunted sushi establishments, private tatami rooms and a modest smattering of tables are buzzed by servers clad in kimonos and white lab coats. In authentic Japanese style, precision is the order of the day, beginning with a presentation of palate cleansing chrysanthemum leaves and edamame. Nothing will appear out of place on sushi plates, either, as glistening fish draped over rice balls can come tucked alongside rolls stuffed with apricot or sweet river eel. While you can’t go wrong with the sushi, it’s worth venturing away from the raw for yakitori chicken meatballs served on a stick or the light and crispy tempura squid. If you’ve deviated this far, with the sashimi course solidly in the rearview mirror, try zosui, a rich stock-based rice soup with floating egg and packed with oysters or chunks of salmon—a fine way to triumph over a dreary day. LUCY BURNINGHAM.
Roost1403 SE Belmont St.
Portland, Ore. 97214-2639
[HOT & HEAVY] Since it opened a year ago, chef Megan Henzel’s bright diner has been scandalously underattended. Henzel takes the near-cliché of simple American fare, well prepared, and really delivers. You won’t find any stunt food at Roost, and indeed there is nothing on the menu I couldn’t prepare at home, given a few hours and a trip to Pastaworks. But there’s no way it would taste this good. Take the shaved cabbage salad with butter-toasted walnuts and apple. I’ve made this, but Henzel’s rendition is flawless, not overly oily or cabbagey. The “burger” is a wad of braised beef wrapped in caul fat and seared, served on top of a bun and a pile of watercress and beneath a crown of fried onion, with small jars of horseradish sauce and pan juices on the side. It requires a knife and fork, and winds up as a wet, sloppy pile. I heartily endorse it. Brunch teeters on excess. The “Kentucky Hot Brown” is a stack of inch-thick, crisp French toast and two poached eggs, capped with two large, thick slices of very smoky bacon and smothered in Mornay sauce—that’s béchamel plus cheese—in a heart-quickening collision of eggs Benedict and Welsh rarebit. It’s just as good as any dish at Zells, around the corner, but Roost usually has no lines, no wait. The restaurant’s website entreats, “eat here soon.” It’s good advice; follow it. BEN WATERHOUSE.http://roostpdx.com
Saucebox214 SW Broadway
Portland, Ore. 97205-3724
[ASIAN FUSION] With Saucebox’s ultra-swanky nightclub-meets-MOMA feel, you might expect some attitude from the sleek, black-clad wait staff. But they’re helpful, attentive and enthusiastic about the menu. The pan-Asian offerings at this 16-year-old establishment are subtle and gorgeous to behold. The grapefruit salad’s vinaigrette is delicate enough to let the peppery arugula shine through. The kitchen has managed to transform tapioca from that horror of cafeteria puddings to a beautiful dim sum treat of wobbly dumplings. The creamy panang curry has just a hint of heat and the clay-pot pork cheeks are achingly tender. There are disappointments here and there: a $26 roasted salmon entree was underdone, even for a medium-rare order. Plan to down a drink from the three-page cocktail menu, which heavily features house-infused spirits like Thai-chili tequila and watermelon vodka. Better yet, go for happy hour and sample a slimmer selection of drinks and boldly flavored small plates for small prices. There may not be a better way to spend $3 than to order the crispy Brussels sprouts, their tiny cabbage-like heads bathed in a savory-sweet dashi broth and topped with a poached egg. For $4 the sweet-potato spring rolls with nuoc cham sauce or pork sarong (ginger-soy meatballs) also make your mouth and wallet happy. DENISE CASTAÑON.http://saucebox.com
Screen Door2337 E Burnside St.
Portland, Ore. 97214-1655
[SOUTHERN CHARM] You know you’re in Portland when even the most Southern-fried menu contains the words “organic” and “locally sourced.” Such is the case at Screen Door, one of those rare spots that manages to meld Pollan-esque sustainability and old-school comfort food from the country’s nether regions. Here Lowcountry grits ’n’ shrimp nestle up to blistered Padrón pepper and sweet corn sauté, while a fig and pluot salad gets mighty neighborly with a mess of fried chicken livers. And while the local and organic goodies are plenty tasty, the most rewarding dishes here evoke the genteel indulgences of, say, a meal at an Alabama country club. Take the housemade pimento cheese, for instance: Unlike the fluorescent, preservative-laden gobs found at the grocery store, Screen Door’s version of this seemingly simple appetizer shows just how transcendent down-home offerings can be. Of course, no visit to the culinary Dirty South is complete without fried chicken. Screen Door keeps its version simple: crisp, buttermilk-battered, with a touch of salt and pepper and served atop creamy mashed potatoes with a side of collards, the dish makes it clear that fried chicken trumps cotton as the South’s greatest export. Like the menu itself, the service seems paradoxical. Tattooed, be-jeaned and be-flannelled, the staff reads Portland-hipster-cool, but upon the several visits we’ve enjoyed has proven so sweet and friendly, you’d swear they were raised somewhere down past the Mason-Dixon line. JONANNA WIDNER.http://screendoorrestaurant.com
Serratto2112 NW Kearney St.
Portland, Ore. 97210-3012
[NOB HILL NOSH] Talk about staying power: The Big One could cleave the West Hills like an ax splitting a watermelon and, once the dust had settled, Serratto would still be there, its bar ringed with regulars and its dining room packed, with a plate of tagliatelle on every table. It’s big, it’s pretty, it’s reliable. What’s good? Well, I like the array of flavors and textures in the endive salad with smoked Idaho trout, fresh watercress, radishes, dill, Marcona almonds and a blue-cheese vinaigrette. And the grilled leg of antelope with marble potatoes, bacon, fava beans, spring onion and asparagus is a keeper, too—where else are you going to get antelope, much less antelope that is both tender and flavorful? I also like it when Serratto deviates from the tried and all-too-familiar, as with the roasted Muscovy duck breast with caramelized fennel risotto and Port-soaked cherries. If only it would shake up its dessert list in similar fashion—the lemon berry tart with a bland lemon curd suffers a sad lack of imagination. ANGIE JABINE.http://serratto.com
Shigezo910 SW Salmon St.
Portland, Ore. 97205-2431
[TOASTMASTER] Shigezo is a merry place, the kind of restaurant where toasts spill across aisles. Thickly hewn wooden beams—some as massive as oak trunks—divide the dining room into the sorts of cozy alcoves where the tipsy businessmen in Kurosawa’s Ikiru might have forgotten their cares, except with Blazers games on the TV sets above the sushi bar. It is unassuming and inexpensive for the Park Blocks: For $15, you can get a great meal, and for $30, you can wobble out the door not needing to eat again until the next night. Since the restaurant is the first continental U.S. outpost of a Japanese chain, few items on the menu are a departure from the basic fare found in suburban Tokyo noodle shops; nearly everything is an outrageous success. The standout of the daunting appetizer menu (the place is designed for drinking Kirin with nibbles) is the gyoza, three cabbage-and-pork-filled dumplings that present a delectable conundrum: You’ll want to keep sampling the thin, pan-fried crust before it has cooled enough to eat without risk of scalding. The okonomiyaki, an egg pancake filled with pork, squid and green onions, combines a lot of strong flavors into a griddle-seared blend, like a teriyaki seafood omelet. The entrees aren’t so wide-ranging, and don’t need to be. The katsu curry, a standard fast-food order in Japan, is both massively portioned and embarrassingly delicious, the distinctively sweet stew topped with a panko-breaded chicken cutlet and heaped with potatoes and carrots. (There’s a vegetarian version as well.) Only one item betters it: the tonkotsu shoyu ramen, with housemade noodles, a pork-marrow and soy broth, and a slice of chashu barbecued pork flank so tender it melts apart at the touch of a plastic soup spoon. The ramen is both homestyle and decadent, like living in a log cabin freshly built from endangered redwoods. The genius of Shigezo is not that it does something new—it’s how sublimely skilled it is at resurrecting the old. AARON MESH.http://shigezo-pdx.com
Skin & Bones American Bistro5425 E Burnside St.
Portland, Ore. 97215-1256
[PDXS] Somebody hand Caleb McBee a pork-belly-shaped trophy. In his three-month-old bistro, the former owner of Pearl District bar Apotheke has succeeded in epitomizing every cliché attached to Portland’s restaurant culture. Skin & Bones is tiny; it has 22 chairs, 14 of which are at large communal tables. Its logo is a wishbone. The interior features an exposed wooden beam, subway tile, a chocolate-brown accent wall, chalkboards, a gleaming espresso machine and both retro light shades by Schoolhouse Supplies and bare, dangling incandescent bulbs with fancy filaments. The menu, which changes too frequently to ever expect a repeat dish, often features Padrón peppers, quinoa and farro. The check comes weighed down with a knucklebone. In keeping with stereotype, the food is very good. McBee and company make several breads and all pasta and desserts in-house. The bread plate comes with, for example, crisp bread sticks, slices of chewy, rye-scented brown bread and a sort of whole-wheat focaccia. (The lineup changes at the whim of the baker.) Desserts are also excellent. A cherry pie hit the ideal balance of sweet and tart with firm fruit and a salty, flaky crust. A blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream went easy on the sugar and acid to let the fruit shine. The pastas, from my limited sampling, are dense but still better than Portland’s average. The kitchen knows its way around a piece of meat—I’ve had a good medium-rare bison steak and an excellent dish of chopped chicken and herbs, wrapped in chicken skin, fried and served over grits. But the highlights of every meal have come from the “Small” list, which emphasizes fairly simple preparations: grilled cauliflower with dill and aioli; a wee quiche with caramelized onions; crisp green beans in butter; fried potatoes covered in paprika, sprinkled with “duck ham” and topped with a fried duck egg. “You guys are so lucky to be getting a duck egg tonight,” the waiter said. He was right. BEN WATERHOUSE.http://skinandbonesbistro.com
St. Jack2039 SE Clinton St.
Portland, Ore. 97202-2244
[LYON DEN] Having thoroughly Portlandized the cuisine of the American Southeast, our local restaurateurs have cast their gaze eastward, in a flurry of Francophile new restaurants. St. Jack, opened in December by chef Aaron Barnett and the prolific Chefstable restaurant group, is the best of the bunch. The menu has a casual, earthy character, the service is warm and professional, and the restaurant’s atmosphere, while hardly rural, is one of earnest bon temps. Lyonnaise cooks are notorious for making inspired use of animal parts no one else wants—the snouts, brains and bits of head—but you won’t find anything at St. Jack much stranger than the tablier de sapeur, a disc of breaded, fried tripe that looks like a chicken-fried steak and tastes like a chewy, beefy latke. It’s at the top of the menu, and sets the tone of the entire meal: This is fatty, intensely flavorful food, and it demands drink. First-timers at St. Jack should beware of fat overdose. I made the mistake of eating, in one sitting, cervelle de canut, a blend of goat cheese, soft fromage blanc, shallots and garlic; roasted bone marrow; a bowl of snails and ham in butter; and a tarte Lyonnaise with goat cheese, melted onions, leeks and a poached egg in a fluffy nest of pastry. There are lighter dishes at St. Jack, and they are among the restaurant’s most satisfying: flaky roasted trout, served head and all with lentils and lemony browned-butter vinaigrette, or lightly cooked clams or mussels finished with vermouth and fennel, and still reeking of the sea. The restaurant’s best dish, though, is a frequent special intended for two: pied de cochon, a whole pig trotter, deboned and stuffed with sweetbreads and mushrooms, breaded, fried and served over white beans in a brown broth that’s viscous with gelatin. It’s only available when Barnett can get enough trotters. If you see it, cancel all plans and order immediately. BEN WATERHOUSE.http://stjackpdx.com
Tabla200 NE 28th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97232-3148
[THE GOOD LIFE] There are few things in life one can really count on, and Tabla is one of them. The unassuming Northeast 28th Avenue spot serves the most consistently great, well-priced Mediterranean food in Portland. And it’s been doing this for seven years. Only suckers skip the $28 three-course dinner, which lets you pick and choose from three long columns of appetizers, housemade pastas and entrees. Don’t let the simple titles fool you; there’s a reason current chef Anthony Cafiero stacks a five-volume tome of Modernist Cuisine near the friendly open kitchen. Recently, a “summer vegetable salad” translated to a long, crazy rectangle of fluffy spinach mousse, pickled rhubarb, peas, beans and glossy sauce while the puckery marinated albacore tuna was decorated with “lemon air.” It’s not all fussy talk. The chefs make their own pasta every day, from a bundle of rich, black squid ink tonnarelli in a flavorful broth swimming with plump clams to the famed tajarin, simply dressed in Parmigiano Reggiano and truffle butter. The entrees are just as soulful; if the Mar y Montana is available, load up your fork shish-kebab-style with bites of tender paprika-spiced grilled octopus, jewel-toned chunks of roasted beets and hunks of Tails & Trotters pork all smeared with almondy garlic ajo blanco. And then just let your eyes roll to the back of your head in ecstasy. Don’t be embarrassed. The people sitting next to you are doing the same thing. KELLY CLARKE.http://tmbistro.com
TarBoush3257 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Ore. 97214-5077
[LEBANESE STARTER] I’m going to be straight with you: I’ve never eaten the entrees at TarBoush. I have never made it past the starter menu. I have gorged myself on those generous mezza plates several times and never found a dud nor a reason to move any further into the larger offerings. Everything I have tried has been very good. Much of it exceptionally good. TarBoush is the new kid in town—most of Portland’s Lebanese restaurants have been around forever, and many are owned by one extended family—but it’s already punching well above its weight. Housed in a towering Victorian on Hawthorne Boulevard, this one-year-old eatery easily has its competitors beat in the style stakes, but it’s that starter menu that should really have them worried. Take the addictive foul moudamma—usually a pretty staid fava bean dish—that comes thick and tangy with an olive oil and citrus garnish you’ll want to drink out of the bowl. The house spin on samboussek offers four baked dumplings filled with cheese, olives and red pepper paste, like little Mediterranean pasties. The grilled halloum cheese is salty, squeaky and charred as it should be, but more impressive is the housemade aged shanklish cheese that comes crumbled through a tomato salad. Even the super-puffy—almost spherical—pita bread is embellished with complementary sumac and olive oil for dipping. RUTH BROWN.http://tarboushbistro.com
Tasty N Sons3808 N Williams Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97227-1467
[TASTY INDEED] Yes, the name makes no sense. Yes, there are loathsome communal tables, and they will probably be filled with strangers animatedly discussing their 6 am bike ride. Also, the wait is very long, and killing time by walking around the neighborhood may prompt you to double-check your car door locks. But this is John Gorham’s house, and as fans of sister restaurant Toro Bravo know, John Gorham does not disappoint. He may well be physically incapable of it. Given that Tasty N Sons originally opened as a brunch-only spot, its brunch bona fides are a given (biscuits with venison gravy, anyone?). Dinner, however, is a newer addition, and perhaps the most pleasant surprise. The Toro Bravo-style cazuelas are in abundance here, but this time containing dishes of a more international bent. Popular at our table was the tender pork souvlaki, perched on a disc of perfectly charred flatbread topped with tangy tzatziki and a cubed cucumber salad, as well as a pair of grilled lamb chops nestled on a bed of kimchi and pickled daikon. Though the menu’s “bigger plates” are intended to be served family-style, most people seemed unable to part with the dishes they had ordered. For this reason we recommend sitting at the bar, where defense of your rightful portion requires nothing more than a strategically placed elbow. KAT MERCK.http://tastynsons.com
Toro Bravo120 NW Russell St.
Portland, Ore. 97212-3791
[VIVA ESPAÑA] The dining experience at John Gorham’s breezy, warm, tapas place is a blaze of visceral stimulation, akin to the swirl of a flamenco dancer’s dress. The clink of shared dishes, the whoosh of the waiters breezing by and the happy din of shared conversation conspire to produce a collective, happy hum. When the food arrives, patrons happily eschew the ol’ pass-to-the-right etiquette in favor of a criss-cross of arms bearing plates to share—the better to get at these tasty morsels as soon as possible. It’s fun to share in a sort of tapas trade system—one of my salt cod fritters with aioli gets one of your empanadas with boar sausage in return. Oh, and please pass this brandy-soaked prune stuffed with foie gras to the end of the table, and hand me that chicken mousse, wontcha? It’s chaotic but pleasantly so, a meal built upon the joy of sharing, and Gorham’s menu, an astonishingly long list of pinchos, tapas, charcuteria, raciones and sweets, naturally caters to such—and provides some of the most delicious and well-executed plates (of any size) that you’ll ever taste. JONANNA WIDNER.http://torobravopdx.com
Vindalho2038 SE Clinton St.
Portland, Ore. 97202-2245
[PASSAGE TO INDIA] For those of us who best know Indian food as “that stuff you pile on your plate from a buffet line and eat so much you have to loosen your belt two notches, then pray for death on the car ride home,” Vindalho will be a welcome change of pace. The sleek Southeast Portland restaurant offers delicately prepared, well-presented fare served without the heart-stopping gloop-sauce that passes for curry at most U.S. Indian joints. Not to say Vindalho’s plates lack richness: The wild boar spare ribs are drizzled with plenty of sauce—both rich and sweet, like a barbecue twist on mole—and the meat slides off the bone without much prodding. The pork Vindahlo is similarly indulgent, and perhaps the sauciest plate Vindalho has on offer. Topped with a crispy garnish that looks and tastes like shoestring french fries in miniature, its spicy brown sauce gives the plate a healthy amount of kick. Lighter plates like the chicken tikka and sag paneer satisfy just as much, especially when enjoyed alongside a sharp tamarind margarita or, for the non-drinker, a soda-pop-style tamarind fizz. If the prices seem a bit out of reach, stop in for the 5-6 pm happy hour and order a $5 chicken seekh kebab: A charred, rich and mysteriously green twist on chicken sausage served on a small sea of creamy mushroom sauce with a twist of (you guessed it) tamarind. CASEY JARMAN.http://vindalho.com
Wildwood1221 NW 21st Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97209-1608
[UPSCALE NORTHWEST] As an institution on Northwest 21st Avenue, Wildwood is one of those classic Portland restaurants that’s frequently overlooked. It’s been plodding along, serving exceptional local and seasonal (yawn) food for years. But regulars willing to shell out for entrees that range from pan-seared chinook to roasted leg of lamb understand a little secret: Take or leave the neutral-toned, business-class atmosphere in the dining room or the long granite-topped bar. The quality of the food and drinks here make hipness a severely overrated accoutrement. The menu changes daily, but usually offers excellent fresh pastas and entrees buoyed by the best vegetables available now. Seasonality even extends to the wonderfully extensive cocktail list. Save room for desserts made from single-origin chocolate, and ice creams and strudels defined by, wouldn’t you know it, superbly ripe and ready fruits. LUCY BURNINGHAM.http://wildwoodrestaurant.com
Wong's King8733 SE Division St.
Portland, Ore. 97266-1467
[A-OK DIM SUM] A few tips on eating dim sum at Wong’s King Seafood: 1) If you don’t arrive early enough to avoid the crowd, bring a book; 2) As enticing as it may seem to make a meal of nothing but a mountain of the fried shrimp dumplings with sweet mayo sauce, do not do this; 3) Give the hot chili oil in the condiment rack a try-—it isn’t volcanically hot and it really makes everything better; 4) The steamed shrimp har gao is tasty. The steamed shrimp har gao with cilantro is regular har gao’s sexy cousin from out of state; 5) Yes, the barbecue chicken is supposed to be cold, and there will be many small bones. It’s still worth it; 6) If you don’t see a favorite or don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, the kind staff are incredibly accommodating and will do their best to take care of you; 7) Unless you really like bean, sesame or lotus-seed paste, skip the pastry cart and just get some sugar-cane shrimp for dessert. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.http://wongsking.com
Ya Hala8005 SE Stark St.
Portland, Ore. 97215-2343
[MONTAVILLA MEZZA] This Montavilla restaurant is a much-loved neighborhood staple (understandably; there’s a limit to the amount of pho one can consume), but Ya Hala pulls in crowds from all over the city for its superior Middle Eastern food and festive atmosphere. The mezza menu is extensive, and while most of its dishes won’t be new territory for anyone familiar with Lebanese cuisine, the bright, fresh flavors breathe new life into some old standards. The veggie mezza assortment features a nigh-perfect hummus, falafels that pop with fresh herbs and a tabouli that is memorable enough I’m actually using up 18 units of my limited word count on it here. The complimentary pita is perfectly serviceable, but it’s worth coughing up $4.95 for some sfeeha, pizza-like rounds of flaky, lightly charred dough, topped with meat, cheese or kishek, a tangy paste made from yogurt and tomatoes that is just killer when eaten with fresh mint leaves on top. Lebanese restaurants are usually pretty friendly to Portland’s many culinarily pious diners, but Ya Hala goes a step above, offering veganized versions of many of its entrees—albeit to varying degrees of success. The makloube, for instance—a layered eggplant, rice and lamb casserole—doesn’t suffer by the substitution of tender squash and fresh vegetables for meat, but loses its magic without a bowl of salty yogurt to dunk each forkful in. RUTH BROWN.http://yahalarestaurant.com
Yakuza5411 NE 30th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97211-6803
[IZAKAYA FUSION] Yakuza places the izakaya into a decidedly Portland context, adapting and expanding on classic Japanese pub grub with local, seasonal ingredients. Inside the concise restaurant, clean lines and heavy timber blend Northwest and Japanese aesthetics. On the drink menu, carefully constructed Western cocktails give way to a well-edited sake list. Taps pour local craft beers while bottles of Sapporo sweat in the refrigerator. Both sashimi and burger are handled with equal poise. In salmon tataki, a buttery wedge of apricot-colored fish is laced with a blood-orange oil, bamboo salt and salmon roe. The burger—one of the best in town—gives subtler nods to Yazuka’s eastern influence, countering chèvre with spicy mayo. Lush Kobe tartare is not to be missed; a drizzle of jalapeño lime oil slices through the richness of the privileged beef, brioche crostini and raw quail-egg yolk. And in Yakuza’s decadent deconstruction of won-ton soup, envelopes of duck swim in luxurious consommé alongside shiitake and chive. The restaurant’s warm lighting and cozy elegance make Yakuza an ideal date spot. The menu’s small-plate construction has appeal for groups, too, allowing one to sample a full range of Japanese-cum-Northwest abundance. Or go solo for a burger and beer at the bar. Yakuza deftly serves all comers. ETHAN SMITH.http://yakuzalounge.com
Yuzu4130 SW 117th Ave., Suite H
Beaverton, Ore. 97005-4632
[IDEAL IZAKAYA] There’s no overhead sign—just an inconspicuous “YUZU” stenciled in gold letters on the restaurant’s tinted glass door. The shades were drawn at dinnertime. This shabby strip-mall storefront seems much more like a place the yakuza would hang than Dayna McEarlean’s esteemed Concordia-neighborhood lounge. So guard our secret (or else!): Herein lies the region’s best—and certainly most authentic and affordable—izakaya. No one yells “Irrashaimase!” (the boisterous greeting in most Japanese pubs) as you walk in the door; the small staff is too busy churning out a dizzying array of dishes in the open, Chinese takeout-style kitchen. Make sure to call ahead for a reservation. If possible, dine with a crowd, to eat your way through the tome of a menu’s grilled and fried delights. Or sit solo at the bar—it’s hard to talk over the J-pop music anyway. You’re here to focus on eating and drinking. There’s a well-cultivated list of shochu (weak Japanese vodka) and sake (try the dry takehara junmai from Hiroshima). Our favorite dishes are the lighter ones—an umami bomb of cold soba noodles topped with tiny, crisp sardines and grated daikon; and grilled shishito peppers, smoky-sweet with the slightest bite, to balance our cravings for comfort foods like pork katsudon. We got the nerve to order natto (slimy, fermented soybeans), made palatable when folded into shiso leaves and tempura-fried. Only that dish and broiled eggplant, which lacked miso, were surprisingly bland disappointments. LAURA MCCANDLISH.
Podnah's Pit1625 NE Killingsworth St.
Portland, Ore. 97211-4929
The secret to great barbecue, according to Rodney Muirhead, is this: “The meat goes into the smoker completely raw and comes out completely cooked.” That sounds easy enough, but it requires a lot of patience—a virtue that many barbecue joints that pre-boil their ribs, bake their briskets and microwave their leftovers can’t seem to muster. As far as barbecue is concerned, at least, Muirhead is a paragon of patience. With his formula of good meat, wood smoke and lots of time, he has, over seven years, gone from slinging ribs at the Portland Farmers Market to running one of the nation’s great barbecue destinations. At Podnah’s Pit, our 2011 restaurant of the year, the trout is sweet, the biscuits flaky and the brisket soft as warm butter beneath its peppery bark. Muirhead opened Podnah’s Pit in a tiny space in 2006. It was an immediate success, popular enough that the restaurant regularly ran out of meat well before the end of dinner hours. But Podnah’s had physical problems. The shotgun layout made for cold drafts most of the year and made squeezing in large parties tricky. In 2010, Muirhead grew tired of renting and, after nearly a year of searching, placed an offer on a former church on a depressed stretch of Northeast Killingsworth Street. The finished restaurant is a wonder. Bright white walls reflect the light that streams through the building’s enormous windows, lending a warm glow to the banquettes, tables and bar crafted from enormous slabs of salvaged wood. The expanded restaurant has brought with it an expanded menu, including cocktails (heavy on fruit and brown spirits), eight beer taps, lots of side specials (a cheesy squash casserole was the highlight of a recent dinner) and even house-smoked bacons and hams on the horizon. But the heart of the Podnah’s experience remains the enormous plates of brisket and spareribs, served with two sides and moist, sweet cornbread speckled with fresh kernels. What makes Podnah’s not only a fine barbecue joint but a great restaurant is Muirhead’s ability to simultaneously embrace past and present. If Podnah’s were a classic Texas-style restaurant, the sides would consist of sweet baked beans and a slice of white bread, and the flatware might be chained to the table. My favorite dishes are all deviations from the strictest Lone Star conventions: the lamb ribs, rubbed with cumin, salt and pepper and smoked just to the edge of medium-well; the trout, which gets 90 minutes in the smoker and comes out tasting like fish candy; and the Brobdingnagian breakfast tacos, stuffed with potato, egg, pepper, onion and chorizo, which, for $7.75, remain the greatest brunch deal in town.http://podnahspit.com
Natural Selection3033 NE Alberta St.
Portland, Ore. 97211-7035
This time last year, Aaron Woo was definitely not a name synonymous with innovative vegetarian food in Portland. Despite a background in fine dining, including a stint at Clarklewis, Woo had spent five years out of the kitchen, running Alberta’s veg-friendly Vita Cafe, known for solid but unremarkable veggie burgers and tofu scrambles. Now Woo is back in the kitchen five days a week, and his vegetarian supper club, Natural Selection, is one of the most exciting, talked-about new properties on Portland’s culinary landscape. Natural Selection is not so much a “vegetarian” restaurant as it is a “vegetable” restaurant: a celebration and an elevation of vegetables from side dish to center stage, proving that with quality ingredients and a little imagination, a good chef doesn’t need faux meats, dense starch or heavy dairy to make a satisfying meat-free meal. Woo spent fall and winter researching and dining out, performing a two-week stint cooking at Michelin-starred Napa vegetarian restaurant Ubuntu, and going back to culinary school, studying modern cuisine under former Fat Duck chef Kyle Connaughton. The result of his gastronomic soul-searching is a restaurant that is light years away from Portland’s other vegetarian and vegan eateries. There is no soyrizo or tofutti, just delicately composed plates of plants that create beautiful harmonies of flavors and textures. Salads pit sea greens against avocado; velvety soups blend coconut milk with pickled red onions and lemon oil; and mains range from handmade pasta packed with vegetables, herbs and nuts to hearty hashes of seasonal produce. Woo rewrites the $35 prix fixe menu from scratch every week.http://naturalselectionpdx.com
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